Gregory Erich Phillips takes on a main character very different from himself in The Exile. First, Leila del Sol is a woman. Second, she’s a Colombian immigrant living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. But they both work in the chaotic bubble-bursting mortgage loan processing world. And right up front, we find out that events eventually conspire against Leila, leading to her deportation.
Phillips weaves a compelling story, and Leila is a likable character with plenty of moxie. He bounces around from Columbia to the States, as well as shifting time periods several times. All told, the novel is 50% romance, 35% immigration / American Dream story, and 15% mortgage brokerage drama from the inside.
Leila has a caring family, a demanding boss, some skeletons in her closet, and a new sweetheart. She’s juggling a lot, but seems to hold everything together well and make smart decisions. Not many 20-somethings have healthy savings accounts, and choose not to get roaring drunk each weekend.
Her romantic story eclipses the corporate story, but weaves nicely together with her immigration issues. Phillips built enough suspense that once I reached about 75% I couldn’t put The Exile down.
Is this the best immigrant / romance story out there? Not by a long shot. But Phillips creates a strong main character, and places her in just enough jeopardy to create suspense. His writing is solid, if not especially lyrical. The way Phillips describes Leila’s emotions tends towards clunkiness, but he gets the main aspects correct from my female perspective.
I would have appreciated some clues to the time and place shifts, like chapter headings. But Phillips makes things pretty clear so it isn’t difficult to follow along. It’s just my humble opinion.
Be prepared for some details about the mortgage business. It helps if you paid attention in 2007-2009, but if not, Phillips will fill you in on the situation. One of our sons worked in that industry for 10+ years, so I’ve heard plenty about the ups and downs already. I appreciated Leila’s morals and humanity in a career not known for its scruples.
As for the romance, Leila’s love interest is mostly one-dimensional. He’s a rich kid with a lot of extra heart. And once I got past the insta-love (which I generally hate), they have a nice groove.
I recommend The Exile if you like supporting up-and-coming authors who take on big topics and build accessible stories.
Many thanks to the author, Köehler Books, and Claire McKinneyPR, LLC for an advanced readers’ copy in exchange for this honest review.