William Atkins


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5 May 2022
ISBN: 9780571352982
320 pages

From the publisher

A luminous exploration of exile – the people who have experienced it, and the places they inhabit – from the award-winning travel writer and author of The Immeasurable World and The Moor.

‘Breathtakingly good . . . I am deeply moved by what Atkins has achieved. Exiles is completely sui generis.’

‘An incredible, brilliant act of retrieval.’
PHILIP HOARE, author of Albert & the Whale

‘Atkins spins a marvellous tapestry of colourful tales, beautifully weaving history and travel accounts.’
ANDREA WULF, author of The Invention of Nature

‘A fascinating study of displacement and empire. Atkins’ voice is distinctive: subtle, reflective and tough-minded.’
COLIN THUBRON, author of The Amur River

This is the story of three unheralded nineteenth-century dissidents, whose lives were profoundly shaped by the winds of empire, nationalism and autocracy that continue to blow strongly today: Louise Michel, a leader of the radical socialist government known as the Paris Commune; Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, an enemy of British colonialism in Zululand; and Lev Shternberg, a militant campaigner against Russian tsarism.

In Exiles, William Atkins travels to their islands of banishment – Michel’s New Caledonia in the South Pacific, Dinuzulu’s St Helena in the South Atlantic, and Shternberg’s Sakhalin off the Siberian coast – in a bid to understand how exile shaped them and the people among whom they were exiled. In doing so he illuminates the solidarities that emerged between the exiled subject, on the one hand, and the colonised subject, on the other. Rendering these figures and the places they were forced to occupy in shimmering detail, Atkins reveals deeply human truths about displacement, colonialism and what it means to have and to lose a home.

Occupying the fertile zone where history, biography and travel writing meet, Exiles is a masterpiece of imaginative empathy.

‘[Atkins] is humane, humble, and empathetic . . . beautiful and moving.’
ILYA KAMINSKY, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa

‘Thoughtful, meditative, beautifully sustained and transporting.’
GAVIN FRANCIS, author of Island Dreams

‘Brilliant . . . [Atkins has] done Dinuzulu’s exile an immense service by bringing it into view in the most thoughtful and engaged way.’
PROFESSOR HLONIPHA MOKOENA, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa

‘In this sensitive and subtle book, Atkins probes the peripheries of European empire with a painterly eye for rarely-seen landscapes and a poet’s sense for the reverberation of history and social change.’
FRANCISCO CANTÚ, author of The Line Becomes a River