Sneak Peek: The Exiles Return, by Elisabeth de Waal

I reviewed this for Friday, but I really wanted to pass along a segment of the foreword I found compelling. The foreword is written by Elisabeth’s grandson, Edmund (author of The Hare With Amber Eyes). In it, he talks about his experience coming across this manuscript–which at the time was untitled–and how certain elements of the novel may have reflected Elisabeth’s life growing up and in exile from Vienna.

The part that I want to share talks about Elisabeth’s love for writing. Edmund had asked her, while she was still alive, while writing mattered, and he never felt she gave him a straight answer. Much later, after she had passed, he came across a single page with this written on it:

Why am I making such a great effort and taxing my own endurance and energy to write this book that no one will read? Why do I have to write? Because I have always written, all my life, and have always striven to do so, and have always faltered on the way and hardly ever succeeded in getting published … What is lacking? I have a feeling for language. … But I think I write in a rarified atmosphere, I lack the common touch, it is all too finely distilled. I deal in essences, the taste of which is too subtle to register on the tongue. It is the quintessence of experiences, not the experiences themselves … I distill too much.

I’ve heard a lot of that word: “quintessence.” In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I previewed last week, the photographer Sean O’Connell describes one of his photos as “the quintessence of life.” A large theme of the movie is the search for what this photo really contains, what the quintessence of life (or, in the case of The Exiles Return, what the quintessence of experiences) really is.


About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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