A Place of Exodus
SPD Bestselling Book for 2020
Best Books of the Year — Bostonia
"A poignantly eloquent memoir."
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"This is a writer who never ceases to amaze."
— Library Journal, Starred Review
David Biespiel tells the story of the rise and fall of a Jewish boyhood in Texas, and his search for the answer to his life’s central riddle: Are we ever done leaving home?
Growing up in a family devoted to Jewish identity, Biespiel comes under the tutelage of the rabbi of the largest conservative congregation in North America. After the rabbi kicks him out of the synagogue during a public quarrel, Biespiel leaves Texas and his religious upbringing behind. After a forty-year exile, he returns for a day to see
home—and himself—in a way that changes his relationship to the world around him. Biespiel draws on a lifetime of writing to create this memoir, an essential companion for anyone who has journeyed far from home.
"Novelist Thomas Wolfe famously pondered whether we can ever go home again. Here, acclaimed poet Biespiel…wonders whether we can ever really leave…At the center of this meditation is a testament to Houston’s diversity, but as a kind of memento mori for home it is a work of amazing power. One hears a sense of longing and dismay in Biespiel’s prose, as if that constant edge of anxious questioning that comes with being young, bright, and talented still haunts him, as it so often did Wolfe’s autobiographical heroes. And yet, within this lyrical remembrance, one catches glimpses of a genius unimaginable…This is a writer who never ceases to amaze, whose prose grows more fascinating and flame-bright with each new book.
— Library Journal, Starred Review
"A distinguished poet reflects on his Texas roots and on the Orthodox Jewish upbringing from which he distanced himself...In this moving, erudite book, the author offers an intimate, searching meditation on personal identity, and he effectively investigates the universal question of the nature and meaning of home."
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"Biespiel meditates in this searching memoir on...what is 'home,' but has no tidy answers: 'If home isn’t where we are, is it who we are?' he asks. Those who’ve questioned their faith will find much to contemplate in this astute, richly told memoir.”
— Publishers Weekly
"Biespiel makes use of a broad...canvas to present a detailed portrait of the Meyerland of his youth and his reasons for leaving. Poetic passages abound with philosophical meditations as counterweights. A Place of Exodus pinpoints a particular place within a particular city, but its larger concerns are relatable to any reader who has felt a pull from afar to leave home..."
— Houston Chronicle
"David Biespiel had me from the first sentence...In A Place of Exodus: Home, Memory, and Texas, the award-winning poet, literary critic and memoirist explores the meaning of home, the way memory shapes the heart and the big skies and bayous of his hometown and the grip it has on his soul...Biespiel writes in breathtaking prose, full of close observation, candor and longing."
— Jewish Week
"This is not his first memoir, or his first book—in fact, it's his 12th—but it is Biespiel's first effort to make something out of the spiritual arc of his childhood, a cinematic story of devotion, conflict and exile.....Forty years later, Biespiel reflects on the subtleties of this time of his life, now with the confident lyricism of a writer who has spent the better part of his career as an award-winning poet....But pieces of Texas still work their way into his Pacific Northwest routine, a constant reminder of the stubbornness of cultural roots."
— Willamette Week
"'You are always the receptacle of what has gone before you,' James Baldwin once wrote, 'whether or not you know it and whether or not you can reach it.' David Biespiel...uses that quote early in A Place of Exodus, his memoir of Jewish childhood and adolescence in Meyerland in Texas. The rest of the book is a demonstration that he really knows what it means."
— Jewish Chronicle
"No, a Jewish Texan is not an oxymoron. Growing up in Meyerland, the historic Jewish section of Houston, David Biespiel had a thorough Jewish upbringing, including Hebrew school, Shabbos services, a Jewish fraternity, fundraising for Israel, and much more...the kid who could do Talmud-heavy Q‑and-As with the rabbi….It all came to a crashing stop…As Biespiel’s subsequent life reveals, it’s not always a bad thing to walk away from expectations. Biespiel left his family, his friends, his rabbi, and his Texas behind, wandering different parts of America….and found his calling."
— Jewish Book Council
"Biespiel evokes two ideas of home. One is a sense of place, as grasped in the vivid portrayal of life in humid, flood-prone Meyerland. And the other is Judaism itself. As he writes, “Hebrew was a home that had been bequeathed. It came as naturally to my body as fingers and toes.” But Biespiel’s life did not conform to script, and he would leave his interlaced physical and spiritual worlds behind."
— Jewish News of California
"In the great American tradition of improvised cultural makings and unmakings, migration and recurrence, David Biespiel unfolds our national quest onto an unexpected terrain: a decidedly Texan and traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Houston. A surprising, heartbreaking and inspiring story."
— Robert Pinsky, Former Poet Laureate of the United States and author of At the Foundling Hospital
"In A Place of Exodus, David Biespiel embarks on a search not for resolution, reprieve, or spiritual repatriation but for the very scent of an era, its ancient and communal dramas, its generational and theological forces. With tenderness, ferocity, and profound humility he traces the origins of his singular sensibility – one that is both wrestled and inherited from beloveds, the land, and tradition. Because Biespiel is Jewish (though admittedly “retired”) he is compelled to remember. Because he is a storyteller, he caresses the complex characters and places of his past. And finally, because he is a poet, he makes it all sing — gorgeously.”
— Lia Purpura, National Book Critics Circle finalist and author of All the Fierce Tethers
“David Biespiel vividly recreates his unlikely Jewish upbringing in Houston, Texas, and movingly tells the story of how he moved away from the dictates and certainties of his childhood religion. He raises large questions about the meaning of home and the nature of exile, which is why A Place of Exodus is such a keen reckoning. It is even a sort of homecoming.”
— Edward Hirsch, President of the Guggenheim Foundation and author of Gabriel
“In his prose, as in his poetry, David Biespiel heeds the highest calling: he assumes responsibility for life's desire to witness its progress. He opens himself completely and becomes a conduit for language to address language, for the self, whatever it may be, to know the self. A meditation on Judaism, a surprising history of Texas, a memoir of a unique and enriching childhood, A Place of Exodus finally becomes a testament to the honest imagination, a sort of sacred text.”
— Tracy Daugherty, Texas Institute of Letters Award and author of The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion
"With the lyricism he's cultivated as a nationally recognized poet...he meditates on the places and selves we call home, no matter where we are....Biespiel dwells rewardingly on description, particularly of the Houston landscape, and detail. His account of one childhood Seder in particular, with its deep specificity about table banter and guest dynamics, is universally resonant of human gatherings. As is his reflection on how we remember such events and the people and circumstances surrounding them: "To search your past is to organize a series of queries about yourself that allow you to discover which actions and events, what behaviors and decisions, have led you to ask those very questions." That reflection is also representative of a cerebral, sometimes detached streak that runs through A Place of Exodus, echoing Biespiel's youthful affinity for jousting verbally with rabbis. 'A Place of Exodus' is a place of inquiry and introspection well worth a visit."
— The Oregonian
"Akin to Montaigne essaying his way through memory or Proust tracking the scent of yesteryear....what Biespiel weaves here in A Place of Exodus is a lyrical labyrinth...blurring distinctions between memoir, essay, bildungsroman, [and] social commentary.”
— The Woven Tale Press
"...a moving meditation on the meaning of home, uncovering bittersweet realities of age, youth, and family with tenderness and devastating honesty."
— Lone Star Literary Life
"As [David Biespiel's] birthright begins to burden him, it’s the intermingling of his life with the stories he’s been told and taken part in that constantly reconstitute him…fusing Texas and Judaism…[Now] when he thinks of home, he sees it as “a distant horizon, staggering in and out of view.”
— Jewish Exponent
"As a child, he had come to understand that being Jewish and being Texan might be one and the same...all the way down, from the way he describes the shape of Hebrew letters to the awesome power of Earl Campbell’s thighs."
— Jewish News of Arizona
"A deep reflection on the meaning of home and how we construct our identity."
— Jewish Herald-Voice
A Place of Exodus