Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz


ISBN: 9781921924217 Format: Trade PB 368pp and 8pp illustration insert Rights: World Release / Publication Date: 01 /08 /2012


Like the best true life adventures, the story of Werner Pelz is stranger than fiction. Forced to flee Nazi Germany for being Jewish, he was then interned in England for being German. Shipped to Australia on the notorious HMT Dunera, he spent two years in internment camps in Hay and Tatura. After returning to Britain, his life evolved into a spiritual quest that led him to become an Anglican vicar, to author popular books (including God Is No More), to frequently appear on the BBC, and to become a Guardian columnist. Decades after his wartime Australian exile, he returned to teach Sociology at La Trobe University, continuing his search for a new way of thinking, a new mythology.

In the mid-1980s, a young university student, Roger Averill, was taught by this quietly charismatic man. The two developed an unlikely friendship, one that was to last until Werner’s death, after which Roger’s research unexpectedly revealed a deeper dimension —a personal life filled with familial drama, pain and poignancy.

Both memoir and biography, Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz is a compelling account of a remarkable man’s life-long search for a truth unbound by orthodoxy. It is also a lyrical evocation of an abiding friendship in which a teacher and a student share the lessons of love and loss, discovering that while the questions they ask have no answers, the act of asking them creates a meaning of its own.
‘Werner Pelz emerges from these pages as a figure of genuine contemporary cultural importance, immense integrity and warmth, and yet sometimes bewildering flaws. Much more than a biography, Exile is one of the most deeply moving and beautifully crafted books I have read in a long time. It is a remarkably tender memoir of a cross-generational friendship, a reflection on the ethics of biographical writing, a work of cultural and intellectual history, and ultimately an unforgettable exploration of the connections between the way we live and die.’
Richard Freadman, author of This Crazy Thing A Life and Shadow of Doubt

‘When I was a young priest working in Glasgow in the 1960s I was troubled and stimulated in equal measure by the writings of Werner Pelz. This affectionate account of Pelz’ life has helped me understand why both my reactions were appropriate. Werner Pelz was a haunted genius whose lifelong struggle for meaning and belonging illuminated the darkness that too easily engulfs the human condition. This book beautifully captures his grace and complexity.’ Richard Holloway, author of Leaving Alexandria

Roger Averill is the author of Exile: the lives and hopes of Werner Pelz, the novel Keeping Faith, and a travel memoir Boy He Cry: an island odyssey. Exile won the Western Australian Premier’s Prize for Non-fiction in 2012 and was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards.  He lives in Melbourne, Australia.




Averill writes eloquently about his Socratic capacity as a teacher. He is a sure-footed guide to the intricacies of Pelz’s thought and to its connections with his protean life.’ 

Ken Inglis, The Age, Saturday 18 August 2012
At the end, we know this man who lived trying to wrest meaning from every moment, who pursued a truth unbound by orthodoxy, who slipped and fell innumerable times. We can also marvel at the friendship and love between author and subject.

Mary Phillip, The Courier Mail, August 18-19, 2012

Averill digs deep, scours wide. We trust him – trust his integrity in chronicling Pelz’s life, trust his not playing haywire with the facts and with us. I think Pelz would have liked the book. And he would have thought the right man got to write it.

Maria Tumarkin , The Australian, 15 September

Averill is a constant but discreet presence throughout the book, as he meets and gets to know Pelz’s friends and family, visits his old home in Berlin, and tries to work out what his discoveries are telling him if anything, about Werner, and where the boundaries of biographical decency lie. The prose is a s clear as Orwell’s pane of glass, though he knows how to use a good anecdote, and the book flows evenly, deeply through Werner’s life. …Averill’s quest for the truth about Werner Pelz begins with questions: Can you really understand someone without knowing much of their past? What happens when you do know more? ‘Might I know more, yet understand less?’ He asks and in the spirit of his beloved teacher and friend he has no answer, except perhaps the one that Werner gave in a radio interview not long before he died: the most important thing is simply to go on thinking.

Peter Kenneally, Australian Book Review, April 2013

Averill truly loved Pelz, but he is nonetheless a skilled biographer not blind to the man’s flaw’s … Averill writes about Pelz’s last days with great feeling and compassion. I was reminded about my teacher and about all those who survived the monstrosity of the mid-twentieth century. The book’s poignancy 
stayed with me for long after I put it down.

Grazyna Zajdow, Arena Magazine, May 2013