Stones from the River
Returning to Burgdorf, the small German community she memorably depicted in Floating in My Mother's Palm, Hegi captures the events and atmosphere in the country prior, during and after WW II. Again she has produced a powerful novel whose chilling candor and resonant moral vision serve a dramatic story. With a sure hand, Hegi evokes the patterns of small-town life, individualized here in dozens of ordinary people who display the German passion for order, obedience and conformity, enforced for centuries by rigid class differences and the strictures of the Catholic church. The protagonist is Trudi Montag, the Zwerg (dwarf) who becomes the town's librarian; (she and most of the other characters figured in the earlier book). A perennial outsider because of her deformity, Trudi exploits her gift for eliciting peoples' secrets--and often maliciously reveals them in suspenseful gossip. But when Hitler ascends to power, she protects those who have been kind to her, including two Jewish families who, despite the efforts of Trudi, her father and a few others, are fated to perish in the Holocaust. Trudi is a complex character, as damaged by her mother's madness and early death as she is by the later circumstances of her life, and she is sometimes cruel, vindictive and vengeful. It is fascinating to watch her mature, as she experiences love and loss and finds wisdom, eventually learning to live with the vast amnesia that grips formerly ardent Nazis after the war. One hopes that Hegi will continue to depict the residents of Burgdorf--Germany in microcosm--thus deepening our understanding of a time and place.
I am so glad that we picked this one for our first book club read of the new year! The only reason that I did not give this book five stars is because it seemed to drag and lag on at the beginning and end of the book. There were times that I found Trudi to be annoying, honestly. However, I do not know how it is to grow up in that time period and to be like her, so I cannot say if her reactions to people/things is wrong, but I don't think she had a heathly outlook on things all of the time. If you are into pre-WWII and holocaust survival stories, then I highly recommend this book. I am now reading another book by Hegi, Floating in My Mother's Palm, in which Trudi plays a minor role.