Sunday, 5 December 2010

Stones From The River

Author: Ursula Hegi
Pages: 520
Published: March 1995
First Line: "

Synopsis: This book follows the life of Trudi Montag who is a little person (or 'zwerg') living in a small town in Nazi era Germany. We first meet Trudi after she is first born and is emotionally abandoned by her mother who suffers from mental illness. Trudi spends a good deal of her childhood hoping and praying that she'll grow. She just wants to be like everyone else and even (unsuccessfully) resorts to hanging from door frames to aid in her growth.

As Trudi matures she constantly feels that her height and 'otherness' make her an outsider in her own town. She does find a sense of power in her ability to get people to tell her their secrets. But when the Nazi's take power she also learns how to keep the secrets of those she cares for, specifically two Jewish families who have always been kind to her.

My Thoughts: This is the second time that I've read this book. I first read it back in June of 1997 and adored it -- surprising, since it was an Oprah pick (she and I don't see eye to eye on most books). This time around I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it's because I've read some truly outstanding books about the Holocaust (especially "In My Hands") which may have made Stones From The River pale in comparison. Unfortunately, this was the book that I picked for our book club and many people are having a tough time getting through it.

I think my main issue with the book was the pace. It dragged in several spots. Hegi had some wonderful ideas for the protagonist ... but then the idea would fizzle or take too long to get to the 'a-ha' moment. Trudi was also a different kind of protagonist. I found that I wasn't always rooting for her. She was a hard character to like because she was so rough around the edges and harsh. Even though the reader had access to Trudi's inner-most thoughts, I still felt like I didn't get to know her.

Don't get me wrong. I did enjoy the book ... I just wasnt' compelled to read it. It was interesting to see how the Third Reich slowly gained momentum and power in Germany among the typical small town German citizens. To see how Hitler's regime easily got between citizens who had grown up with each other and resulted in pitting neighbour against neighbour. It was also interesting to see how the people in Trudi's town easily fall in line with the Nazi regime. Hegi shows the reader that due to years and years of obedience and conformity (specifically to parents and the Catholic church) the citizens find it hard to go against the grain and stand up against the Third Reich.
Because the story is based in a small town many (and I mean MANY) secondary characters are introduced making it hard to remember who the author was talking about. With so many townspeople included in the overall story that you never really got to know any one secondary character well. She touched on many but didn't get me to really care about what happened to any specific character.

I'd be interested to hear what other people who've read this book think of it. Especially if you're re-read it and see it in a new light.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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