Stones From The River by Ursula Hegi. 1994, Poseidon Press. 509 pages.
I am almost to the end of my year-long Oprah Book Club challenge. This is #11 in my year-long, self-inflicted challenge, and this one has turned out to be an excellent read.
This is a book about the life of a woman in pre and post-World War II Germany. Trudi Montag has dwarfism, and was born to a loving father and an emotionally-disturbed mother, who dies before Trudi reaches adulthood.
Trudi learns to use her intelligence to counterbalance the many obstacles of dwarfism, and she is a likeable character with a sense of humor. This is a book about secrets, and Trudi learns at an early age that gossip and secrets will make people pay attention to her. She becomes the go-to person of her fictional village, Burgdorf, for the town gossip, and she works tirelessly to gain the trust and confidences of people. She spends her day tending the family’s pay-library with her father and talking with their many customers.
Most fascinating about this novel, though, is the time period. The chapters are by year, and as the book progresses past the first world war, through the Twenties and on to the Thirties, you feel the dread and anticipation of what you know is coming quickly in Germany. The book gives you a small-picture view of the effects of Nazism and the Hitler era on this small town and its residents. It addresses the question of how the German people could succumb to the influence of a charismatic, unbalanced leader and how this small town’s residents managed to deal with the brutal reality that eventually all were forced to accept.
Ostracism and the need to “fit in” is a major theme in this book. Trudi becomes friends as a child with Georg, whose mother, mistrusting men, dresses him as a girl, complete with long curls. He eventually persuades Trudi to cut off his hair, which begins a series of changes that will bring acceptance for him among his peers, and Trudi sadly watches him distance himself from her, the dwarf.
Trudi experiences a brutal act at the age of thirteen, which colors her feelings and actions throughout her life. She exacts her revenge on most of the guilty individuals by the end of the book.
She finds another friend, Eva Rosen, who ignores her at school but cultivates a private friendship. As the relationship is blossoming, Trudi betrays Eva’s confidence and causes her a great deal of pain at school, ending the friendship. After adulthood, the friendship will resume.
Trudi has a romantic relationship with a man that she initially deceives, and the two fall in love.
The war begins and progresses, and fear, cruelty and shame take over the town. People become suspicious and paranoid, and those who are different disappear or are taken by soldiers during the night. Trudi and her father hide fleeing Jews in their home after digging a tunnel to the house next door. Trudi herself is imprisoned.
This book is simply outstanding. This is one that you will not want to put down, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Because of time constraints, I listened to the book on CD, and, as always, wished I had read the book. I found myself needing to page back and check the names to see who was who, and this is difficult to do with a CD while driving down a highway.
Loved the book. Read it, and you will, too!
Out of five stars, I give Stones From The River….
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