Exotic by Albert Haley

I should be working on my book chapter that has to be mailed to France on the 31st. But I don't wanna. Instead, I curled up and finished reading Al Haley's book Exotic. In the spirit of his review of Anita's book, here's some comments on Exotic.

It is one of the most surprising novels I've ever encountered. I especially enjoyed the pic of Al on the back inside cover--he's still our Al, but young, a full head of sandyish straight hair (sorry Al), and best of all--attitude. I love that picture.

Written in the early 80s, the novel is full of echoes and gems that recall the 70s to me--that time of hope, despair, love, hate, honesty, deceit, and a host of other contradictory emotions. The main characters of the book have little to identity with or even like, but I do. Like them, I mean. Butch and Rebecca Miller have few aspirations and many fears to match their primo educational opportunities. But they learn to lean on each other, to love each other, to enlarge their sympathies. Tresh, the sneaky and brilliant drifter who rarely thinks of anyone but himself is also compelling. And the Christian themes and ideas are as sneaky as Tresh himself, but they are there to help the reader make sense of the tumbling plot.

Al's descriptions are really vivid. After reading of a huge crowd gathered to listen to rock and roll, I left the book hot and sweaty, feeling as if I had been fondled and stomped by thousands. After reading of a journey through a dense jungle, I realized that the very tactile experience had again left its impression on me.

There's a scene in the book toward the end in which Butch begins to imagine what he wants to do when he gets out of the jungle and back home. He imagines giving a lecture tour with photos about "The Human-Rights problem in Manaya: A Personal Odyssey." But in his imaginings, he never thinks of the people and helping them,;it's rather about self marketing, appearing in People Magazine, movies, etc. This scene for me encapsulates what makes this book fun and rewarding intellectually. Gradually, the sad human condition of the oppressed and poor is revealed through this book, and gradually the reader realizes that Butch's attitude of indifference or exploitation is our attitude. We'll leave the book, put it down, and go about living in our little Christian world contributing to the devastation of others, all the while we live fairly well. The dedication of the book is to "everyone who visits Manaya this year." Everyone who visits the "Christian" country of Manaya would be anyone off on a self-serving trip or journey (even in the mind) who is oblivious to all the atrocities around them. Hopefully, the visit to Manaya will help wake us all up. But my guess is that we'll just "sleep on it" as Rebecca and Butch do in the epilog.

I won't soon forget this book, nor should I. Thanks Al. I'm so happy that this novel is now a part of me.


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