Exile: A Novel
by Richard North Patterson
Published by Henry Holt and Company
563 pages, 2007
From one of America's most compelling novelists comes the mesmerizing story of a trial lawyer who must defend the woman he loves against a charge of conspiring to assassinate the prime minister of Israel.
David Wolfe's life is approaching an exhilarating peak: he's a successful San Francisco lawyer, he's about to get married, and he's being primed for a run for Congress. But when the phone rings and he hears the voice of Hana Arif -- the Palestinian woman with whom he had a secret affair in law school -- he begins a completely unexpected journey. The next day, the prime minister of Israel is assassinated by a suicide bomber while visiting San Francisco; soon, Hana herself is accused of being the mastermind behind the murder. Now David faces an agonizing choice: will he, a Jew, represent Hana -- who may well be guilty -- or will he turn away the one woman he can never forget?
The most challenging case of David's career requires that he delve into the lives of Hana Arif and her militant Palestinian husband, both of whom have always lived in exile. Ultimately, David's quest takes him to Israel and the West Bank, where, in a series of harrowing encounters, he learns that appearances are not at all what they seem.
Culminating in a tense and startling trial with international ramifications, Exile is that rare novel that both entertains and enlightens. At once an intricate tale of betrayal and deception, a moving love story, and a fascinating journey into the lethal politics of the Middle East, this is Richard North Patterson at his most brilliant and engrossing.
Until Hana Arif called him after thirteen years of silence, and he knew whose voice it was so quickly that he felt time stop, David Wolfe's life was proceeding as he had long intended.
Except for the spring of Hana, as he still thought of it, David had always had a plan. He had planned to excel in prep school as a student and at sports, and did. After college, he had planned to go to Harvard Law, and he had. He had planned to become a prosecutor and then enter politics, and now he was.
That this last was proceeding even more smoothly than he could have hoped was due to his fiancée, Carole Shorr, who, though not planned on, had entered his life at least in part because her plans meshed so well with his. Now their plan was the same: marriage, two children, and a run for Congress, which continued the more or less straight line of David's life since his early teens, when he had realized that his dark good looks, wry humor, and quickness of mind were matched by a self-discipline that wrung every last particle out of the talents he possessed. Only once -- with Hana -- had nothing mattered but another person, an experience so frightening, exhilarating, and, in the end, scarifying that he had endured it only by clinging to his plans until they became who he was. It was a sin, David had come to believe, to be surprised by your own life.
This conclusion did not make him callous, or disdainful of others. The experience of Hana had taught him too much about his own humanness. And he knew that his self-discipline and gift for detachment were part of the mixed blessings, perhaps intensified by Hana, passed down by his parents -- a psychiatrist and an English professor who shared a certain intellectual severity, both of them descendants of German Jews and so thoroughly assimilated that their banked emotions reminded him of the privileged WASPs he had encountered when his parents had dispatched him from San Francisco to prep school in Connecticut, with little more sentiment than he had come to expect.
All this made him value and even envy the deep emotionality of Carole and her father, Harold -- the Holocaust survivor and his daughter, for whom their very existence was to be celebrated. So that this morning, when he and Carole had selected a wedding date after making love, and her eyes had filled with tears, he understood at once that her joy was not only for herself but for Harold, who would celebrate their wedding day on behalf of all the ghosts whose deaths in Hitler's camps -- as unfathomable to Harold as his own survival -- required him to invest his heart and soul in each gift life gave him, of which his only child was the greatest.
So David and Carole had made love again. Afterward, she lay against him, smiling, her breasts touching his chest, the tendrils of her brunette curls grazing his shoulder. And he had forgotten, for a blissful time, the other woman, smaller and darker, in his memory always twenty-three, with whom making love had been to lose himself.
Thus the David Wolfe who answered his telephone was firmly rooted in the present and, blessedly, his future. He was, he had told himself once more, a fortunate man, gifted with genetics that, with no effort on his part, had given him intelligence, a level disposition, and a face on which every feature was pronounced -- strong cheekbones, ridged nose, cleft chin -- plus cool blue eyes to make it one that people remembered and television flattered. To his natural height and athleticism he added fitness, enforced by a daily regime of weights and aerobic exercise.
His current life was a similar fusion of luck, self-discipline, and careful planning. That morning, upon reaching his clean and sparely decorated law office, David had flipped his desk calendar, looking past the orderly notations of the lawyer and would-be politician -- the hearings, depositions, and trial dates of a practice that commingled civil law with criminal defense; the lunches, evening speeches, and meetings of civic groups that marked the progress of a Democratic congressman-in-waiting -- and lit on the wedding date he and Carole had selected. It would be an occasion. Harold Shorr would spare no expense, and this served Carole's interest in a day that combined deep celebration with an opportunity for David's further advancement in the Jewish community that would become his financial base in politics.
This was fine with David: Carole's penthouse was a focal point for Democratic and Jewish causes, and he had become accustomed to Carole filling dates with social opportunities both onerous and interesting, the latter represented by the dinner Carole was hosting that evening for the Israeli prime minister, Amos Ben-Aron. This one of Carole's many dinners promised to be particularly intriguing. Formerly an obdurate hard-liner, Ben-Aron was now barnstorming America to rally support for his controversial-last-ditch plan to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, with whom it had too long been locked in a violent and corrosive struggle -- about which, as it happened, David knew a little more than he could have admitted to Carole without inflicting needless wounds, or reopening his own.
Dismissing the thought, David gazed down at his wedding date. Perhaps the prime minister, David mused with a smile, would agree to serve as their best man. No doubt Carole had considered this; in her reckoning, David's only flaw was a shortfall of Jewishness. Not that this was obvious: a gentile former girlfriend, studying David's face after lovemaking, had remarked, "You look like an Israeli film star, if there is such a thing." Then, as now, David had no idea; he had never been to Israel. No doubt Carole would change this, as well.
Still light of spirit, he had just looked up from the calendar to his view of the San Francisco skyline when the telephone rang.
He glanced at the caller ID panel. But the number it displayed was a jumble that made no sense to him -- a cell phone number, he supposed, perhaps foreign. Intrigued, he answered it.
Her voice, precise and soft at once, caused the briefest delay in his response.
"David." The repetition of his name was quieter yet. "It's Hana."
"Hana," he blurted. He stood up, half out of reflex, half from shock. "What on earth . . ."
"I know!" She hesitated. "I know. I mean, it's been long."
"Thirteen years. And now I'm visiting here. San Francisco."
David managed to laugh. "Just like that."
"Not exactly. Saeb is relentlessly tracking Amos Ben-Aron, pointing out the manifest defects and incongruities of this new plan of his -- perhaps more sharply than our American hosts are happy with."
She said this as if it were logical, expected. "So you two are married!"
"Yes. And we -- or I -- decided it was time for Munira to see the United States." This time it was Hana who laughed. ''I'm a mother, David."
There was something in the timbre of her laugh that David could not define -- perhaps simply the acknowledgment that she was not the young woman he had known, the lover he might still remember.
"It happens," he answered. "Or so I'm told."
"Not yet. But I'm getting married in seven months. According to the conventions, children follow." Temporarily, he lost his place in the conversation. "So how is it, being a parent?"
This time it was Hana who seemed, for a moment, distracted. "Munira," she answered dryly, "is my own parents' revenge. She's bright, willful, and filled with the passion of her own ideas. Sometimes I think she will never imagine that I was such a person. Or experience the kind of amusement, pride, and chagrin a mother feels when she looks at her daughter and sees herself."
Though he had begun to pace, David smiled a little. "So she's beautiful, as well."
"Beautiful?" The word seemed to take Hana by surprise. David recalled that she had often seemed unaware of her own impact -- at least until she looked at him and saw it in his eyes. "Oh," she added lightly, "of course."
With this, neither seemed to know what to say. "This is all right?" she asked.
"To call you."
"Of course. I'm glad you did."
She hesitated. "Because I thought we might have lunch."
David stood still. "The three of us?" he asked at length.
Another pause. "Or four of us, counting your wife-to-be."
She tried to infuse this with a tone of generosity, including in her proposal a woman she did not seem to have expected.
"How is Saeb?" David parried.
"Much as you would recall him. We are both professors at Birzeit University, near Ramallah -- it's been some time, you may recall, since the Israeli army last shut us down. Saeb is still brilliant, and still angry. Perhaps angrier than me now. He's just as committed to Palestine, but more radical. And very much more Islamic." She stopped there. Is it such a good idea, David wanted to ask, to put Saeb and me at the same table once again? But to question this would be to intimate that to Saeb, and perhaps to Hana, David occupied the lingering psychic space that Hana did for him. Then she spoke again.
"Perhaps you're right," she said simply, answering the question he had not asked. "You are well, David?"
''I'm well. Very." He felt a brief twinge, his last memory of Hana. "And you?"
"Yes. Enough." Once more she sounded hesitant, perhaps rueful that she had called. "And you've become a trial lawyer as you wished?"
"And a good one, I am sure."
"Good enough. I've yet to lose a case -- mainly because I spent all my career until last year as a prosecutor, and prosecutors try the cases they can win. Now I'm a defense lawyer with my own practice -- me and one associate -- working as tribune for the mostly guilty. So I'm overdue for a loss."
"I hope not, if only for the sake of your next client." Her voice softened again. "Your fiancée, does she have a name?"
"Carole. Carole Shorr."
"What does she do?"
"Good works, mainly. She has a master's degree in social work. But her father's quite wealthy, so she's found her way into causes she cares deeply about -- raising money for the Democratic Party, chairing the board of a group that combats violence against women and children. A lot of time put into Jewish charities and promoting ties between Israel and the United States." He paused briefly. "Without, I might add, despising Palestinians. All she wants for Israel is a stable peace, and an end to killing."
Hana was briefly silent. "So," she said gently. ''A nice Jewish girl, and a rich one at that. Things often end up the way they're supposed to, I think."
There was a moment in time for me, David thought, when "supposed to" did not count. Had it ever been like that, he wondered now, for Hana? Then he heard his own silence.
"So here we are," he said. ''I'm happy about Munira. If there was ever a graduate of Harvard Law School who should downstream her DNA, it's you."
After an instant, Hana laughed briefly. "Then congratulations to us both, David." Her voice abruptly sobered. "Though I worry she has seen too much on the West Bank, too much oppression, too much death. I can feel her growing too old, and too scarred, too quickly. The Zionist occupation has been criminal -- generation after generation, they are always with us. Ben-Aron most of all."
David did not respond.
Hana paused, seemingly uncertain of what to say next, then retrieved a note of warmth. "I'm glad to know you're well. Take care, David."
"Oh, I will." A last moment of hesitation. "Good-bye, David."
Slowly, David put down the telephone, his morning utterly transformed. | January 2007
Copyright © 2006 Richard North Patterson
Richard North Patterson is the author of 13 previous bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. Formerly a trial lawyer, Patterson was the SEC's liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor, has served on the boards of several Washington advocacy groups, and is currently the chairman of Common Cause, the grassroots citizens lobby. He lives in San Francisco and on Martha's Vineyard with his partner, Dr. Nancy Clair.