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Stones from the River Paperback – March 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 1997: Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River clamors for comparisons to Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum; her protagonist Trudi Montag--like the unforgettable Oskar Mazerath--is a dwarf living in Germany during the two World Wars. To its credit, Stones does not wilt from the comparison. Hegi's book has a distinctive, appealing flavor of its own. Stone's characters are off-center enough to hold your attention despite the inevitable dominance of the setting: There's Trudi's mother, who slowly goes insane living in an "earth nest" beneath the family house; Trudi's best friend Georg, whose parents dress him as the girl they always wanted; and, of course, Trudi herself, whose condition dooms her to long for an impossible normalcy. Futhermore, the reader's inevitable sympathy for Trudi, the dwarf, heightens the true grotesqueness of Nazi Germany. Stones from the River is a nightmare journey with an unforgettable guide.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 525 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Later Printing edition (March 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068484477X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684844770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (477 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

184 of 193 people found the following review helpful By Lesley West on June 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
A friend insisted I buy this book, telling me what a masterpiece it was. I was at first sceptical, and I must confess it did not grab me within the first few chapters as I had hoped that it would. The main character is a dwarf, the child of a mentally ill mother and a father disabled in World War 1, and whereas her life looked as if it would be interesting, if filled with angst, I was confident that this itself would not hold my attention for the whole of the book.
How wrong I was, becuase it is not Trudi's life that grabs you, it is the world she is living in - the horror of Germany between the wars. It is difficult to find words to describe how that world changes, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the slow and deliberate persecution of the Jews, and the terror of ordinary citizens who barely dared to question what was hapening to their lives. The story becomes shocking, unimaginable and utterly compelling. I also think that it is something that everyone should read, and I like my friend, will recommend it to everyone.
It is not an easy story to read, and Trudi, the main character is spiky and independent - not always easy to identify with. But is an important book because it also chronicles the life of everyday Germans who were caught up in unspeakable times, and it is with these characters that our sympathies lie.
I am pleased that I took my friend's recommendation. Again, not an easy read, but a picture of history that cannot be ignored. It is a truly compelling and magnificent novel.
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125 of 132 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
I usually try to avoid Oprah's picks for literature. After I finished She's Come Undone, I unknowingly picked up Stones without realizing that it, too, had Oprah's stamp of approval. The first few chapters--the ones dealing with Trudi's mother--bored me and I started to wonder why everything Oprah picked had to do with mental illness of some kind. Once I became engaged in this book, I could not stop reading it. I am amazed when I read other reviews by people who say that this novel is trite or that it's difficult to care about the characters. Not many Americans could relate the experience of the Nazi regime from the inside. Hegi stunned me as she gave me a clearer insight into World War II Germany (which my high school history classes failed at miserably). This piece works on so many different levels. Trudi's disability, if that's the word for it, is an allegory to which almost every other element in the novel can be compared. Stones connects a "biography," a story of a community, and a compelling account of a horrific time in world history. You don't have to care about Trudi, but didn't anyone feel for Alexander or Frau Abramowitz? I'm giving it four stars; Hegi lost my last star for making the first few chapters way too difficult to get through. But this book is definitely rewarding once you get into it.
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Format: Paperback
Written in 1994, and set in the small (fictional) German town of Burgdorf from 1915 - 1951, this compassionate novel centers on Trudi Montag, a bright, observant, and articulate young woman who is also a zwerg, a dwarf. Born to a mentally ill mother who dies when Trudi is three, Trudi is at first bewildered by her small size, hanging from doorframes to "stretch" her arms and legs, praying that she will become more like other children, and believing that if she is truly good, God will help her.

Though a circus dwarf once comforts her by describing a fantasyland filled with gold and jewels, where everyone is a zwerg, Trudi finds that real life is not so magical. She is physically and emotionally assaulted, and, as a teenager, watches in horror as the Nazis come to power and assault and later "deport" her Jewish friends, who are now considered "different." Trudi's experience of her own "otherness" makes her a sympathetic friend and active supporter of the local Jews, and Hegi evokes great power by connecting the overwhelming Nazi horrors with the life of one small person in one small community. Through Trudi, Burgdorf's citizens come alive--those who befriend her and those who reject her, those who support her efforts to help the Jews and those who don't, and those who pity her and those who are inspired by her.

Throughout the novel, Hegi shows the power of storytelling to influence lives. Trudi works in her father's pay-library, and she is the community's best known storyteller, creating entertaining and lively stories that teach lessons, especially during the war years. But Trudi is no Pollyanna--she also uses her storytelling as a weapon against those who offend her, wreaking her own brand of personal vengeance. As the novel evolves, her childhood companions come and go.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Vincent D. Pisano on December 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
In Stones from the River, set in wartime Germany, in the fictional town of Burgdorf, Ursula Hegi sets the theme of her book early on through Trudi's mother, Gertrude. She allows her young daughter to run her fingers across the scars on her thigh, feeling the grains of gravel beneath, telling her, "People die if you don't love them enough." The grains of gravel paralleled the stones in the river (hence the title) - they were sins people committed that, like the ripples in water from a stone being cast in, showed their scar on the surface for only a short time and then disappeared, but the stones remain beneath, unseen, like the sin. Already one can see the relevance this will have regarding the upcoming events in the novel, regarding the atrocities under the Nazi regime.

Trudi is a zwerg girl, a dwarf, who at first puts her faith in prayer, wishing to grow taller. She is confident in the divine power and, especially after meeting another zwerg woman named Pia, a lion tamer, feels more positive about herself and the possibility of "normalcy." However, after four abusive neighborhood boys find her too different and repulsive to even rape and instead humiliate her and disrobe her, she loses all faith in prayer, and from then on seems to take nothing for granted, developing an early conviction of justice.

By the end of the novel, after the World War II horrors have come to light and Germany begins to put itself back together, Trudi and the allied forces are able to finally deal out their justice. As the Americans move in it is now the Nazi supporters which are the ones being investigated and ostracized, as they had done to the Jews and dissidents. Once again, the themes of the stones in the river/gravel beneath the skin are set upon the town.
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