The Last Exile by Jasha M. Levi


I very rarely read books cover to cover in a sitting, especially autobiography, which to me usually seems to be so much an exaggeration of very little. This book is a real page turner, and all the more so because it is a biography that underplays the drama that inspired it rather than the reverse. I was blown away by how much Levi has packed into his life, rubbing shoulders with the great, the ordinary, the good and the bad, the rich and very poor, and all written in a beguilingly modest way. Levi is a good writer, a true artist of the English language, a third or fourth learnt language after his native version of Serbo-Croatian.
Levi has very much brushed over his personal tragedies, and avoided boasting his greatest triumphs. His heroes are always someone else, his words always describing a greater truth. This book is so much a tapestry of life, a tapestry of our modern times, a record of social history that should be for ever guarded.
The book starts, “I am 89 now. As I sit in my garden, under the trees I planted, I feel compelled to finish telling all I remember.” We should all be glad he has at least outlined the essential parts of so very much. We may not learn much of use from King’s and the movement of their divisions but we must learn the lessons of modern history from those who have really lived it. So many of the social and political currents that wash over Europe either flow from the Balkans, or are represented there in microcosm. Levi has himself been washed into so much big history from that very pot.
The United States has been the beneficiary of the second half of Levi’s life, and hardly a day has seemingly been wasted there as he has reinvented himself a few dozen more times. We must all hope that there is still much more to come from his writing, a writing that can grip us all without ever needing to resort to fiction. I finished thinking that every ten pages glossed over enough material for another book, and that is a rare feeling indeed.


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