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The Vision of Emma Blau Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 2, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (February 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684829975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684829975
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,366,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Ursula Hegi's The Vision of Emma Blau is an epic story of German immigrants attempting to assimilate while still preserving traces of home in their language and rituals. In 1894 Stefan Blau leaves Europe for America; he is only 13 years old, but he feels the need for another country so strongly that it wakes him up at night. After narrowly escaping a restaurant fire in New York City, he finds himself in New Hampshire. With money he has saved from waiter jobs and poker winnings, he buys a small hotel, which over time he transforms into a six-story, elaborate apartment house. The Wasserburg (water fortress) is a palace towering over a half-empty lake town, standing out in the landscape the same way Stefan's accent stands out in conversation--exotic, awkward, a hybrid of German and American dreams.

Hegi's writing is lively and graceful, moving across time, space, and generations without faltering or bogging down. While her scope is vast, her great gift is for particulars: Stefan's third wife, Helene, who has a deep-seated aggression in her soul that her mother attributed to her being a "biter" as a child; his daughter, Greta, who lags in school but notices things no one else does--"the reflection of the half moon that swayed on the water like a slab of frost," or the music of her flute--"long notes that sounded like the calls of large birds flying through the night." These moments of poetry open up The Vision of Emma Blau, halting its swirling world with their loveliness.

Hegi is best known for her 1994 novel, Stones from the River, which Oprah chose for her book group, catapulting this somewhat obscure writer onto the bestseller lists. But Hegi was around for a long time before Oprah shined the light on her. She is a born storyteller, a witness to the immigrant experience who is reimagining America's past from the perspective of those who desired that country as a promised land, but who even after 100 years could never quite sleep the sleep of its native sons. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

Much as she did in Stones from the River, Hegi creates a social world in microcosm, and, following her characters for almost a century, fashions a saga of hidden loves and destructive obsessions. The fictional German town of Burgdorf, the setting of Stones and Floating in my Mother's Palm, also figures in this novel, the story of a German-American family and their fellow residents in an opulent apartment house set, inappropriately,in a rural community on the shores of New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. In 1905, Stefan Blau, recently emigrated from Burgdorf, has a vision of a girl dancing in a courtyard (foreshadowing identifies her as his eventual granddaughter, Emma) and resolves to give substance to his dream in a building that he will call the Wasserburg. Stefan's passion for the Wasserburg is also a curse, manifested when both his first wife and his second die in childbirth. Determined not to risk another child, he returns to Burgdorf and marries Helene Montag (sister of Leo, the dwarf Trudi's father in Stones). Helene tricks him and has a child of her own--and survives--but the sibling rivalry among Stefan's offspring, combined with the personality defects they acquire when he reserves all his love for the Wasserburg, will threaten to destroy the family. Hegi uses the story of the Blaus and their tenants and neighbors to examine the social pressures on German-Americans during two world wars, and to contrast the differences in cultural attitudes and behavioral standards. She tends to animate characters in terms of psychological eccentricities (one of Stefan's sons eats compulsively to make up for paternal cruelty; his sister can foresee the future and heal by touching; and the eponymous Emma has the same obsession with the Wasserburg that prevents Stefan from nurturing his family). The eventual deterioration of the Wasserburg symbolizes the family's decay, but the much-signaled curse on the house is finally broken. Hegi's gift for depicting family dynamics and sexual relationships, including the concealed sorrows and tensions that motivate behavior, anchors the narrative, but it is her larger perspective of a family's cultural roots that grants her novel distinction. Agent, Gail Hochman. 6-city author tour. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

I look forward to reading her other books.
Deborah A. Woehr
With great passion, Hegi delves into human nature and the needs and desires that motivate us all.
Jan McGreger
The characters did not move me at all, although the story itself wasn't too bad.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael Leonard on March 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A great piece of work. Hegi has done a fine job! I read Stones from the River last year and loved it so it was great to revisit the American side of this family. Although, stylistically "Vision..." is not as sophisticated as "Stones..." it is still astutely observed. AS a new immigrant to the US I identified with Stephan Blau as he forges a life for himself in a new country. The issues raised re: the immigrant experience ar spot on: the language barrier, the feeling of belonging neither here nor there, the problems of assimilation and the cost of retaining one's loyalties to one's homeland are all explored. The characterisations for the most part are good - I loved the stream of consciousness episodes - while the characters' are acting their true hidden motives are being revealed, The Wasserburg contains a wonderfully eclectic cast of individuals spanning all generations and it is perhaps the central character. We are witness to its inevitable decay as Emma is released from her "vision" This novel is a sweeping view of America and shows us how love and tradition can have such a multi-generational impact. Hegi brings a wonderfully luminescent quality to her writing and she maintains a startling capacity for detail. A great work by a great writer and it has made me want to revisit Stones From the Rover all over again!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Victoria S on April 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The start of this book about Stefan Blau and his wives is very intriguing -- I would have liked the book to be all about them. The characters of his children were boring and his grandchildren even more so. There were just too many characters over such a long period of time that I stopped caring about any of them -- especially the house, which was much too central for my tastes. I was actually rooting for its collapse by the time Emma was around (my least favorite character). The beautiful style of Heigi's prose is about the only thing that kept me going to the end. A big disappointment since "Stones from the River" is one of my all time favorites -- one I recommend to all my friends. I would never recommend this one to any of them. I gave it three stars because it was not terrible, and like stated above, her prose is wonderful to read. I just had really high hopes for it after "Stones" -- compared only to it, this is a 2 or less.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By "dev_books" on March 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ursula Hegi has always been an insightful, thoughtful,respected author. With THE VISION OF EMMA BLAU, her reputation as oneof the finest contemporary fiction writers is sealed. A German native, her work crosses any possible cultural borders --- every book is a tightly woven exultation of life as experienced by human beings, regardless of sex, creed, or any other distinguishing factor. She is, quite simply, a marvelous storyteller.

THE VISION OF EMMA BLAU is the story of Stefan Blau, a 13-year-old boy who flees his small town in Burgdorf, Germany. He comes to the USA in search of a chronic vision that haunts him --- it is a vision of a small child he hasn't seen before and a place he hasn't ever visited. The book travels from Germany to America and covers nearly 100 years. Emma, his granddaughter, is the girl of his dream; his sprawling apartment house, the place of his dream. Wasserburg, Stefan's estate, falls into a slow fade and parallels the evolution of American society. The book tells the life of the Blau family, but it truly reflects the experiences of all families that have lived and prospered and suffered throughout World War I and World War II.

Immigrant life in America is not a new subject. But somehow the beautiful prose Hegi utilizes brings Stefan's story into full bloom and makes us feel like we are reliving that period of history all over again, through a truly new perspective. I think this is a very difficult feat to pull off --- but the vision itself presents a framework that keeps us on the edge of our seats: When will Stefan's vision become clear? Who is the girl? Where is this place? How does it all tie into the life he creates for himself anew in the New World, then passes onto the generations of German-American descendants that come after him?
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Vision Wrangler on March 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ursula Hegi uses her poetic prose and emotional insight once again to create a world in which by exploring the lives of others we learn more about our own. Hegi's previous book, Stones from the River, used the dramatic backdrop of Hitler's Germany and the life of a young dwarf to explore themes of belonging, exclusion, alienation, and "status in the tribe". In The Vision of Emma Blau, Hegi creates five generations of characters through which she explores human desire, how desire manifests"~ itself in our lives, and the impact of those manifestations on those around us. to provide a means to explore our humanity, then this book is fine art indeed.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written book. If you enjoyed Stones From the River, this book is for you. Ms. Hegi makes her characters come alive! I could picture everyone in the apartment house. I highly recommend this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By spideranansie on July 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I read this book after reading "Stones from the River" and was a little disappointed. Hegi is a wonderful storyteller and she has a gift of writing poetically sensible sentences which strike at your heart and make you see things in her characters which you recognise in yourself. However, I can't help but feel that this was an over-ambitious work. The parts where it deals with Stefan Blau's attempt to adapt to life in America as an immigrant are not well explored, and when the novel unfolds, the introduction of the various characters becomes a tad confusing and you get the feeling that you're reading alot more about characters you don't care about only because they fall into the correct time frame. I would rather she had concentrated on characters from the first and second generation, as their lives were neglected towards the last third of the novel, leaving a sense of dissatisfaction in the reader. The writing of "Stones of the River" was much more in-depth and the fact that the story was seen through the eyes of a main protagonist managed to give the novel a degree of centrality which was severely lacking in "The Vision of Emma Blau". At the end of the novel, there is a sense that you have read everything, but have escaped the pertinent points. This was an average novel, but its resources, setting, people and themes could have been worked into something much more powerful. I still look forward to Hegi's other offerings.
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