I’m back in Westport. My plane landed in La Guardia airport, from which I took the M60 bus to 125th Street station on Metro North, and then caught a commuter train back to Westport, where a friend picked me up. It was really pretty convenient, and probably faster than driving, though with checked luggage or without a friend to pick me up it would have been much less fun.
I had hoped to spend some time programming in Florida, but our days were full, and I spent my few free hours engrossed in Exile, by David Richard North Patterson, which I have on loan from my grandparents. Exile is a history textbook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disguised as a legal thriller (and love story). In structure it strongly resembles The DaVinci Code; in both cases the plot is designed to introduce characters in situations where they may reasonably give long history lectures without boring the reader. Exile is the far better book, though, both because its academic monologues are actually true and because Patterson, though not a great artist, is a full class above Brown on the spectrum of pop fiction.
My appreciation for the book may be helped somewhat by the fact that the main character, David, is a liberal secular American Jew and a Democrat who went to Harvard for grad school. He’s also written to be unrealistically uninformed about this history, in order to allow other characters to give the information they want. Patterson’s perspective is carefully neutral, and intriguingly pessimistic. His personal assertions do occasionally bleed through, but they are both mild and obvious enough not to wreck the book. I definitely feel as though this book gave me a much more complete understanding of the Palestinian perspective, and the history behind it.
The book was written in 2006, and so predates, for example, the Hamas takeover of Gaza. This change dramatically alters the effect of the book. The book avoids predictions, but it does offer a carefully limited vision of two paths, one optimistic and one pessimistic. The events in Gaza, over the past two years and also over the past week, make it quite clear which one we’re on.