Publication date: 2001
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Martin, the central character of Hart Wegner's powerful new short-story cycle, is a middle-aged German émigré who has found a home, of sorts, in the glitzy, often surreal setting of contemporary Las Vegas. Exiled at the end of World War II with his parents from their beloved Silesia, the family struggles to come to terms with the turmoil of history and memory while they cope with the challenges of assimilation in an alien setting.
In stories that range from the Nevada desert to the lost world of prewar Silesia, Wegner explores, through the perspectives of Martin, his aging parents, and their small circle of fellow émigrés, the intricate tapestry of the exile experience--childhood recollections of the fertile plains of East Germany and the shelter of comfortable and loving homes, memories of the horrors of war, the guilt and terror and despair of displacement, the frustrations of finding one's way in a new culture, the precious ties of family and longtime friendship. And most of all, loss--the loss of home; of an identity formed by an ancient language, the details of a shared culture, and a common sense of past and of future; of loved ones; and finally, and most tragically, of memory itself.
Wegner, an award-winning writer of short stories, is at the very top of his form in this moving, unforgettable collection. His characters are bitter, tender, despairing. Full of hope, they are ever seeking a new home, a new place in which to belong. The inner world of exile has never been examined with such sympathy, such clarity, or such eloquence.
As in his debut collection, Houses of Ivory, Hart Wegner continues to examine unmined territory in Off Paradise. He is interested in Christianity and disruption, and writes with the exiles amazing sense of something you might call place misplaced. The people in his fiction are at home and not at home, to equal degrees, in a world the form of which is shocking only because Wegner makes it so with his deft and unerring prose. Richard Wiley
Intricately layered, interconnected-damasked-the excellent stories in Hart Wegners Off Paradise speak both to and for al expatiates, which we all are, if not in place like his characters Martin and Ala and Mother and Father, then certainly in time. Read these stories slowly, savoring each one, the way Martin savors the blueberries he eats in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City with his old Army friend Josef. You will remember them. John Irsfeld
Few writers master a second language; still fewer appreciate two very divergent cultures. Wegners beautifully crafted tales do both, letting us share a self-exiled East German familys (really the authors) deep nostalgia for their lost Silesian younger years while adapting to a new life in Nevada. Armand Singer