Steeped in melancholy, Wegner’s second collection (after Houses of Ivory, 1988) gives poignant, autobiographical testimony to the dark side of the immigrant experience as two families are uprooted by the chaos of WWII.
The nine interlocking stories are alternately about two middle-aged survivors of relocation, Martin and Ala, who have already met, married, and divorced in Las Vegas by the time they are introduced to the reader, but whose similar pasts forge a bond between them that neither is willing to break. In the title piece, Martin and his mother have a visitor, a childhood friend of Martin’s who stayed in Germany after the war. Her bitterness at having lost her homeland, Silesia (which became a part of Soviet-ruled Poland after the Nazi surrender), clouds her memories as she reminisces. In Ala’s stories, such as “A Ransom For Tedek” and “Dogs of Autumn,” Martin records her past as she floats in his swimming pool. She recalls wartime Poland and an uncle who died in Auschwitz, her twin sister Zofia, who went mad during a Warsaw bombing, and her own experiences in the city as her privileged childhood came apart. Martin’s own painful recollections include images of a boyhood house destroyed, but he is also faced with a more recent tragedy in “On the Road to Skaradowo.” Serving as witness to his father’s last days in Las Vegas, he recognizes that with the old man’s death his link to his past becomes more tenuous. Finally, Martin realizes that he, Ala, and their displaced families have been dealt a blow by history that will leave them forever strangers, no matter where they go.
Aptly labeled a “Book of Exile” in the epigraph, this is a mournful blend of present and past, quietly despairing in its tone, and fully mature in its craft.