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Burgdorf Cycle #1

Stones from the River

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Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9780684844770

From the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Floating in My Mother's Palm comes a stunning novel about ordinary people living in extraordinary times.

Trudi Montag is a Zwerg—a dwarf—short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share—from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he's a girl, to the Jews Trudy harbors in her cellar.

Ursula Hegi brings us a timeless and unforgettable story in Trudi and a small town, weaving together a profound tapestry of emotional power, humanity, and truth.

525 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1994

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About the author

Ursula Hegi

24 books752 followers
Ursula Hegi is the author of Sacred Time, Hotel of the Saints, The Vision of Emma Blau, Tearing the Silence, Salt Dancers, Stones from the River, Floating in My Mother's Palm, Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories, Intrusions, and Trudi & Pia. She is the recipient of more than thirty grants and awards.

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5 stars
38,487 (40%)
4 stars
33,601 (35%)
3 stars
16,893 (17%)
2 stars
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1 star
1,537 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,174 reviews
Profile Image for E.
380 reviews79 followers
January 27, 2008
This was an excellent book. I was astounded by Hegi's ability to capture both the everyday life of Germans over the 20-year span leading up to the end of WWII and the experience of a woman with dwarfism. Not once does she dramatize for the sake of Hollywood-like entertainment. Considering the standard treatments for both the topics of dwarfism and WWII, this is indeed a rare accomplishment.

I myself have dwarfism and am usually sick of the average portrayal of dwarfs in the media as either amusing, adorable, freakish, or pitiful, but Hegi's portrayal of Trudi Montag was amazingly normal and simultaneously resonating. I am dying to know who in Hegi's life gave her the inspiration to portray the experience of a dwarf so accurately without treating her like a novelty. Authors who don't belong to a minority take a risk when they try to tell their story for them, but in this case Hegi succeeded brilliantly.

Since I read the book, I have also - coincidentally - been living in Germany now for over three years. My German friends and in-laws appreciate the need for novels set in WWII since they of course recognize the importance of what one can learn, but they are also sick of the theme being treated as a novelty by any author or filmmaker trying to catch the audience's attention. Hegi's non-dramatic portrayal of the era is crucial in proving that WWII and the Holocaust originated in the midst of everyday people. This signifies how it happened, how it should be resolved, and how future tragedies can be prevented.

Profile Image for Jessica Reese.
13 reviews11 followers
August 28, 2007
I found this book at a library sale, and ended up buying it because I like the way the first page read. Unlike many of the people who have reviewed this book I loved it from the beginning. Trudi's insight into the world is amazing, and while very mature for her age, with a slight mental leap, completely believable.

Ultimately this is a book about differences. When we begin the story, Trudi and her friend Georg are the outcasts, but as the plot progresses-- as the Nazi's gain more power and WWII begins-- who is and isn't an accepted part of the community continues to morph. What becomes important is how people deal with their relative societal acceptance, as well as how they treat those who have been deemed outcasts. With a satisfyingly ironic ending, it is immensely clear the author hopes this book will challenge our considerations of all those on the the periphery of society.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,051 followers
November 13, 2019
I've got a German friend who every time the war is mentioned suffers a rush of blood to her face and looks physically pained. She continually makes me realise what a struggle it is for sensitive, generous spirited Germans to come to terms with what happened under the Nazis. And this despite one of her great grandfathers taking part in the coup against Hitler and being hanged. I mention this because the author of this novel is German and this novel, to some extent, is an attempt at atonement. Unfortunately, not a very good one in my eyes.

It begins in 1915 in an invented German town. The husband has been wounded in the war; the wife is a deeply troubled soul and is horrified when she realises she has given birth to a dwarf child, Trudie. For a while these three characters are compelling. The unrelenting challenges to her self-esteem Trudie faces are well done and we don't blame her for becoming somewhat mean spirited towards the residents of the town. Later in the novel she will work in the library where she collects damning stories about her fellow inhabitants. But we're told this; never shown it and as a sub plot it never meshed into the narrative drive. Unfortunately, this is anything but a tightly focused novel and the narrative soon begins wandering far and wide. Innumerable other characters are introduced, none of them particularly memorable and the book begins to take the obese form of a soap opera. It also wanders towards magical realism at times but then pulls back. There are also dream sequences and the temptation to start skimming took hold before I reached the 100-page mark.

When the Nazis take power the book becomes interesting for troubling reasons. It's essentially a rather benign depiction of everyday Germans under Nazi rule. Kristallnacht is quickly brushed over in Hegi's invented German town. To be honest, I felt there was a catastrophic failure of imagination on Hegi's part to evoke German life under Nazi rule. I couldn't help drawing parallels with the infinitely superior Alone in Berlin, also written by a German but a German who didn't shy away from dramatizing the ensuing vile predatory behaviour when a state encourages its members to vent everything most base in their nature. Even from the point of view of cranking up dramatic tension it's odd Hegi chose not to include a single hateful Nazi in her narrative. The murder of the Jews is never mentioned in this novel. They have "disappeared" as if they might simply be living someone else. Towards the end of the novel Hegi even tells us a few Jews returned to her invented town. The most passionate display of narrative outrage is at the bombing of Dresden. It's as if she uses the dwarf theme to act as a kind of smokescreen to hide the outrages inflicted on the Jews. The cruelties Trudie goes through are not peculiar to Nazi Germany; they would occur in any society. If this book were the only information we had about Nazi Germany, Nazi Germany wouldn't stand out as being significantly more evil than many other political regimes in world history.

But this isn't the reason I didn't like this novel. It was the continual snowstorms of incidental detail, the repetitive blundering up blind alleys and the unrelenting introduction of gratuitous characters which prevented me from connecting with this book which is probably twice as long as it needs to be. A buddy read with Elyse. (It took me about a month longer to read than it did Elyse!)
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
April 19, 2018
She stood firm in the midst of ridicule. She chose life in the middle of war. She took action instead of simply staying silent to atrocity. She gave people books and stories to take them away from their dismal worlds of hunger and strife. Despite being a little woman who was pitied and bullied because of her height, she chose people and books. She was not all good, but she was not all bad. She was human.

Staying close to the jetty, she'd streak through the shallow water like a frog, dive to the brown sediment of mud and let it billow around her, wishing her body matched its color so she could let it camouflage her. Here, the river belonged to her. In the water she felt graceful, weightless even, and when she moved her arms and legs, they felt long.

This novel is about dreams, about the wants and desires of people forced into poverty, about the price for being different, about the cruelty of humanity.

She was born to a mother who went insane once she saw what seemed like a large head and small limbs of her beautiful daughter, Trudi. They call her a zwerg, dwarf. Friends betray her, attack her, misuse her. The town shuns her, pities her. Can she find happiness, she wonders constantly? Can she get married someday and have children? Can she love herself, or will she continue to hang from the molding in the living room, stretching her limbs in order to get taller? Despite her turmoil, she has a father's unconditional, tender love. She has stability at the pay-library they own. She has her imagination, and with it, she becomes powerful again and very useful to the town.

Somehow, this spring was infusing her with new strength and hope, a deceptive hope, she reminded herself, and yet it soothed her, took her back to the river where, in the shallows below the weeping willows, the water had taken on a peculiar shade of opaque green as though it had soaked up the color of the new leaves, a green that suggested tranquility, reverence almost.

This story of the Montag family and the many characters that inhabit their lives during World War II Germany is not what I would call a page-turner. In the beginning it almost lost me, when a five-year old's point of view seemed too mature. Yet the novel is poised and elegiac. It moves at its own pace, inserts backstory between dialogue at its leisure, and infuses various character viewpoints at random moments. The story is sharp, the main character Trudi is alluring to follow, the scenes flow gracefully, and the infusing of political history is inciting and rich.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,469 followers
January 2, 2019
OK, yesterday I finished the book....... and I am having a very hard time choosing the stars and knowing what to say! Yes, it is a very, very good book, BUT STILL it only received 4 rather then 5 stars. The positive first! The book is speckled with marvelous lines that get you thinking. For example - "by getting closer to a smaller world, she had found a larger world." Think about that and how true it is! Trudi, the main character's father has died. She says, "What she missed most was the certainty of being able to share small details of your life with someone who knew you so well. Who else would possibly care what you'd thought while looking out of the window or what you'd eaten for breakfast?" I feel the reader is strengthened, can learn something about how to live their life by having these small inconsequential views pointed out. And of course, I agree.

On the larger scale, that which the book is maybe "talking about", is German behavior during the Second World War. This too was well depicted, allowing all different character types to be represented. This part of the book was very difficult for me to read. In all honesty, I began skimming. I couldn't deal with all the atrocities, depicted one after the other. There was no light anywhere, and in a sense I find this not to be correct. How do you get through terrible times? Only be seeking out the small things that can make one smile. Furthermore, the author discusses EVERYONE in the village. It got to be too much for me. I couldn't keep everyone straight, but yes I did care about them. How can you write a book that isn't depressing about a time such as this? Well the "Book Thief" by Kusak manages, by interspersing some points of joy in the blackness. It is possible to achieve. For this reason I finally chose 4 over 5 stars!

This book revolves around so many different themes: the value of story telling, how people choose to live their lives in so diametrically opposed manners, the value of kindness, what is it that makes one person valued by friends and another not, about being "different" and, if I can say it one more time, about kindness. Should I have given it 5 stars? Perhaps, but something keeps me back!

This was written when I started the book:

I have only read about 100 pages, but the writing has captured me. Beautiful! Not beautiful in a flat descriptive way, but more that the author captures the souls of her characters. Should I quote a few lines? I am not sure if that would clearly express how these lines make the characters come alive! Here follows one short line to chuckle over. When Trudi is invited by her friend Georg to the blessing of cars, bikes, farm machines and other vehicles by the holy water of the village pastor, Trudi is told by Herr Abramowitz that "catholic water rusts Jewish cars!"

Lately I have been reading such marvelous books. It is not that I am generous with praise, but rather that GoodReads is a fabulous site where readers can discover the books that they are seeking and where one is introduced to books that one has never before encountered. I just had to say that I really love this site! My only worry is that publishing companies and / or authors turn it into an advertising medium! What a shame that would be.
Profile Image for Carey McDonald.
7 reviews5 followers
February 3, 2008
This was the first book I read with my new book club and I feel I need to rationalize the four- instead of five-star rating. The story is so important, and so deftly told, and the author does a great job of capturing the lives of citizens in a small German town from post-WWI through post-WWII. I felt like I came to know many of the characters personally. I cried several times. I had to really rethink what I know about history. And there were moments in the book where I literally had to stop reading just so that I could mentally and emotionally process what was happening.
But man oh MAN was it difficult to get into! I didn't hit my "reading stride" until well into the book, and still I continued to struggle through the rest of the way. Sure, there were passages that flowed wonderfully, filled with amazing, vivid imagery and flawless characterization. But, as my pal Emily said at our meeting: "She really made you work for it." Which, in no way means this is not a worthwhile book. After all, struggle, progress, interconnection, yadda yadda. But it's not one of those books that you "sink" into lazily and backstroke through the whole way. It's much more like treading carefully through a rocky-bottom stream, having to pause before each step, checking to find the most stable stone for your foot (which is already cut and bruised and sore), and all the while having to be alert enough so you don't get sidetracked by a floating log and bumped off of your foothold and back into a bed of unforgiving stones. Which, I guess, makes the title of the story just a little more apropos than it already is.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews763 followers
July 24, 2012
A sensitively imagined portrayal of a small German town in the fateful years between the first and second World Wars narrated from the perspective of an appealing main character who is both of the town in that she is the keeper of their secrets and the source of their gossip, but also other due to her diminutive size, there's a lot to like about this rich and colourful web of life. For me personally it has the added attraction of this fictional town being situated just down the road, the locations ones that I know well. So why did I find myself skipping over huge chunks of it after a while? Well, the writing is plain and straightforward; nothing wrong with that, it's clear and lucid, you don't always want obscurity that makes you work hard, but occasionally it does lapse into history teacher mode.

...the long training in obedience to elders, government, and church made it difficult-even for those who considered the views of the Nazis dishonourable-to give voice to their misgivings. And so they kept hushed, yielding to each new indignity while they waited for the Nazis and their ideas to go away, but with every compliance they relinquished more of themselves, weakening the texture of the community while the power of the Nazis swelled.

It's almost as if Hegi couldn't quite trust her ability to show us this happening and has to resort every now and then to these kind of generalities to make sure we've got the message.

And then of course none of the snippets of songs or references to poems and stories have the appeal of the exotic for me, so that may also explain a little of my lack of enthusiasm for what is, actually, a very well-written book. It's a very digestible way of learning a lot about German modern history, but maybe I thought in my intellectual arrogance that I knew it all already.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,202 reviews271 followers
January 6, 2015
It was like that with stories: she could see beneath their surface, know the undercurrents, the whirlpools that could take you down, the hidden clusters of rocks. Stories could blind you, rise around you in a myriad of colors. Every time Trudi took a story and let it stream through her mind from beginning to end, it grew fuller, richer, feeding on her visions of those people the story belonged to until it lefts its bed like the river she loved. And it was then that she'd have to tell the story to someone.

I've read lots of brilliant books about WWII, but mostly they were plot driven and focused on the protagonists involved. Stones from the River is different in that it describes the lives of many of the inhabitants of Burgdorf (a small fictional German village) from 1915 to 1951. It is beautifully written, but a book you need to immerse yourself in, definitely not a quick easy read. I have a much better understanding of the years building up to WWII, how Hitler convinced so many people to support him, and (for me) most intriguing how people lived with themselves and each other after the war ended.

I think two aspects of the author's writing that I admired most was firstly that she never dramatized anything. In this it reminded me of The Diary of a Young Girl, humans can get used to almost anything. Secondly, she introduces us to a a big cast of convincing and memorable characters - they include the good, the bad and the ugly. Each of these individual stories could have filled a book, but together they give us a much better idea and understanding of what happened.

GR recommended this to me because I loved The Poisonwood Bible, and I have to agree that the feel is very similar.
Profile Image for The.Saved.Reader.
411 reviews80 followers
June 1, 2012
Right from the start I need to preface this review with the fact that I know my review will not do this story justice. It is a most eloquent story told through Trudi, a dwarf born in a small German town during WWI. This story actual begins during the first World War and continues through the second World War.

Trudi struggles with being a dwarf and hangs from her hands to stretch her body and tightly ties scarves around her head to keep it from getting any bigger. She yearns for love and believes that she will not find love as a dwarf. She supplements her desire by learning others secrets and using them to be somewhat of a storyteller. Trudi endures teasing and general shunning by people all her life, but manages to come through WWII, even though The Reich is know to use such anomalies as test subjects.

As the story moves nearer to WWII, the sense of doom was so overwhelming to me, I nearly found myself screeching out loud. I had not previously read a book that included Hitler's promises to the people nor did I completely understand why they went along with the terrible things he did, but I do now. I really felt the gradual control shift as Hitler started his programs and recruited the young-it was just eerie.

Trudi is sort of a tough cookie and may annoy the reader at times with her fierce independence and stubborn behavior, but don't let that throw you off her trail because you would miss out on one of the most moving pieces of literature out there. A truly moving and interesting story with a hint of folklore, I highly recommend this read.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews24 followers
October 24, 2019
An abbreviated buddy-read-review- with Violet 🥳

Fabulous beginning - “then the barrage of details began sucking the vitality out of it”!!!.

Themes galore....
Historical Fiction, Nazi-Regime Germany- holocaust atrocities and cruelty towards Jews, small German village town/community-tales,
dwarfism, (the main protagonist,Trudi Montag, was born a dwarf/*Zwerg*, female, adding uniqueness),
discrimination, outsider feelings,
rumors, gossip, coming-of-age, abandonment, prejudice, jealousy, violence, rage, rejection, friendships, families, love, sex, a pet dog named Seehund,
injured war veterans,( favorite was Leo Montag, the town librarian),
people shunned and harassed, war- destruction, deaths & births,
human failures, triumphs, and hope!

Memorable parts are definitely memorable,
but it needed editing.

3.7-3.8 for overall spirit behind the storytelling.

Profile Image for Jessica Sullivan.
519 reviews428 followers
April 21, 2017
This is one of the books that I recognize as being objectively wonderful in spite of my own ambivalence about it. It's about a young dwarf named Trudi Montag, and her life in a small fictional German town during the rise and fall of the Holocaust.

All throughout her childhood, Trudi yearns to belong, and when she finally does—being German rather than Jewish—the irony is that she no longer wants to. Trudi recognizes from the very beginning that what's going on around her isn't right, and eventually she and her father begin harboring Jews in their home.

One of the ways this book is so successful is in illustrating the steady rise of the horrific. The people in Trudi's town—decent people she has known her whole life—become complicit with the Nazi regime, either out of fear or misguided conviction that Hitler is doing what's best for their country. This insight felt eerily timely given current events—a warning of how easy it is for seemingly decent people to gradually come to abide unacceptable cruelty.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed and the writing was good, but at 525 pages, it was too detailed and drawn out for my liking—with a wide cast of characters. I appreciated Trudi's personal journey toward self-acceptance and her gradual realization that we each must create a sense of meaning and belonging for ourselves, but much of the supporting characters' stories felt tedious.

I think many readers would love and appreciate this book more than I did, and while I'm glad to be finished with it, I also don't regret reading it.
Profile Image for Fergie.
388 reviews34 followers
October 27, 2020
I've read all of Ursula Hegi’s books and have yet to be disappointed. I found this to be her finest work. In fact, Stones From The River stands among my favorite novels. A high school friend turned me onto this book years ago and I am forever glad she did. It's still one of my favorite novels on my shelves. Stones From The River is the first in the Burgdorf series of novels set in Germany around the time of WWII. With the creation of Trudi Montag, Hegi set the stage for some of the finest, most interesting characters and stories modern literature has ever seen. For readers who want to complete the series: to date, the Burgdorf novels by Hegi include (in order): 1. Stones From The River, 2. Floating In My Mother’s Palm, 3. The Vision Of Emma Blau, and 4. Children & Fire.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
201 reviews93 followers
July 25, 2012
There aren't enough stars in the universe with which to rate this book. As five stars is all I can give "Stones from the River" I do so knowing that no amount of stars nor any review no matter how sexy or lyrical or witty or heart "wrenching-ly" beautiful could ever do the book or Ursula Hegi justice.

I wish that "Stones from the River" had an infinite number of pages so that I could read it for the rest of my life.

Profile Image for Red Haircrow.
Author 20 books105 followers
February 9, 2017
Although I often read history, especially books regarding World War II and Germany, memoirs, collected memories, analysis into the various horrors and sheer arrogant stupidity of what the Nazis and others did, I seldom, if ever, read fiction books about those times.

This book, however, caught my eye because the central character was a Zwerg, or dwarf, one of the many groups considered “unfit to live” which were summarily done away with under the Nazi regime. Secondly, this character, Trudi Montag’s best friend as a child was a boy named George whose mother dressed him as a girl and kept his hair long. Without reading anything further into the short synopsis on the back of the novel, I thought it might be about their personal interactions, regarding their “disabilities”, with those who meant for them to die. In the end, the book is about far more.

My Background

I like living in Germany. It’s where I was born, though not my ethnicity, and was one of my favorite places in the world to live by simply existing. Doing my thing, and being allowed to do so. A separate space. This is quite shocking to some people, those who still look on Germany as Nazi, intolerant and ugly. Whatever one thinks of modern Germany and its population, whether one is insistent on their culpability and propensity to commit evil acts, or is merely doubtful in some way, few people know the depth of the self-loathing, national examination and fury of descendants of “those ones” who participated, “looked the other way” or somehow minimized what happened. Though it is considered a more “unreligious” Christian country, many are insistent almost nearing religious fervor, that one be allowed to live or do what they wish, within universal bounds. That can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

The Holocaust is taught in schools, and students are required to learn about it, but it’s a subject few Germans except scholars or other academicians will discuss with “outsiders”. It’s a subject if brought up, the faces shut down, become wary or misdirective, or if they are the outspoken sort, they will question why you are pursuing the topic. Some, usually the younger generations, don’t want to hear about it anymore because they are sick and tired of the still accusatory comments or jokes made towards them, their people and country. Australia, Spain, the UK, the USA, France, the core EU (or previous EU partners) were all colonizer invaders who attempted genocide, and in some populations succeeded, because of their beliefs of superiority and manifest destiny. It is still happening in areas of Asia and Africa, and the effects of genocide are on-going in the Americas, the Pacific Islands and Australia.


I initially found the book difficult to get into, not because of topic, but because of style, which was choppy and sporadic, with a POV which toggled between an omnipotent viewer and the main character as an infant and toddler who made observations about individuals and situations that would be impossible for a child of that age. Often there were snippets of thoughts or memories provided as if from old age looking backwards, yet it was in early childhood details. Many other facts are merely implied. You have to ascertain a conclusion from information presented, and you’re often left doubting or wondering if you understood something correctly.

The setting is a small village in Germany, one of the many burgs which often surround or are near a larger, cosmopolitan city. Hegi is excellent at setting a mood so you can “see” and feel what it’s like to live in such a place: the little relationships, the jealousies, the short-lived boasts and affairs which kept everyone just a certain distance apart yet always together. There are good people and bad people, ones you ultimately as a reader can judge as such, yet the author makes no such attempt. She gives you the information, you can draw your own conclusions.

You are drawn into the world of Trudi Montag, her father owns a book circulation library and is a former injured veteran of WWI. She is visibly different, painfully and emotionally aware of the fact, yet with ingenius courage survives and keeps a dignity so many thoughtlessly attempt to brush away. That very difference, Trudi’s birth, her dwarfism is yet another trigger into her mother’s slow descent into madness, and poignantly we observe the bittersweet nature of a child’s desire to please and make happy a parent who soon is helpless against their own compulsions.

As other peers grow taller, grow up and pursue the nature courses of life, Trudi feels trapped yet determined to also grow in all ways, but her obsession with being “normal” teaches hard yet important lessons which keep her alive during the years to come. Unrequited love, secret abuse, solitary agony and loneliness. Trudi is small in stature but hugely spirited, fierce and passionate in her hates and personal battles.

Characterization is extremely important to this writer, even if the amount of names and descriptions can be confusing at times, with each person Hegi shows aspects of the German character, its idiosyncracies, faults and positives. About midway through, Hegi finally hits her stride, as the inevitable events we now know as history, begin to unfold. Almost frenetically we are drawn along in the emotional flood knowing what is going to happen, but as we’ve been made to care for each person, reluctant to progress already realizing the inevitable.


For some who are more narrow-minded, they will not take away from the book the knowledge Hegi is trying to impart: that although virtually all Germans of that time knew and felt something very wrong was occurring, and they knew the basis on which it was focused, the ridding of the fatherland of Jews, some resisted and helped those Jews or others as they could with risk to their own lives. Some more than others. Others not at all, but many in some way or another did. It’s easier with hindsight to proclaim what one would have done in such a situation, but Hegi excels at showing just how normal people can change, and how the world around can change you.

For those who’ve studied facism, you’ll clearly see the examples of what type of attitude a police state creates in its populace. One most notable is the willingess to turn in others to prove their own loyalty, even children against parents, sibling to sibling, old friends of old friends. And later, to minimize or justify those acts. To conveniently forget what roled they played.

Yet the book is not a political statement. It is not a justification. It is not a mediation. It is starkly plain as seen through Trudi Montag’s eyes what people are and can be. As a little person who was often ignored or dismissed, her insight is brutally honest yet acceptable as truth. It is a character which I often find in Germans today, the willingness (if they allow you in) to harshly examine self, to admit to weaknesses or wrongdoing of thought or deed, but with a pragmatism which accepts those facts but is unwilling to be dismayed by them. Life goes on. Again, for good or bad, as this tendency can be problematic in actually caring that one's own actions can negatively impact others even if it feels good for you. That's colonialism still at work.

As an editor, I would have been compelled to “clean up” Hegi’s writing, make it more coherent and flowing, yet it would have lost the sparkle which makes unique her voice. As a reader, I found it challenging, but overall this book is extremely successful. I would strongly consider it one not to be missed. Although they make hundreds of films these days about anything and everything, this is a book I would love to see adapted for film. With its snippet like quality, it would be perfect for the big screen.

A bittersweet and wonderful gem. I am glad I didn’t put this one to the side simply because I don’t often read contemporary fiction or because the stamp on my copy proclaimed it a “Oprah’s Book Club Selection”. I would have been much less having not read it. It really is near perfect in it’s view of German life of the era, the complexities underlying an entire country and people’s past which continues to haunt with a darkly golden light.

Full commentary is copyright to my review site Flying With Red Haircrow http://flyingwithredhaircrow.wordpres...
Profile Image for misha.
104 reviews7 followers
September 4, 2007
I loved this book from the beginning. The anger and passion of Trudi captivated me from beginning to end, and I had a hard time putting this book down.

I found that I had to concentrate harder on this book due to the number of characters, and with all of the german names. This made it much harder to rush through the book, which ultimately should be cherished anyway.

I loved Trudi's strengths as a story teller, and her understanding of her surroundings that bordered on magical realism.

Will read again someday when I can spend more time on the individual beautiful words, rather than trying to get to the end of a very good story.

50 reviews4 followers
March 19, 2009
Trudi Montag, a manipulative, resentful, nosy dwarf uses the secrets she gathers to extract her revenge on the townspeople who consider themselves superior and shun her, during the period from the First to Second World Wars in Burgdorf, Germany. As far as synopses go, that would be pretty accurate but it wouldn't make you want to read the book. The main character may be less than sympathetic, but she is sharp and observant, and paints finely tuned, sensitive, and insightful pictures of her fellow citizens and the German psyche, as they are sucked into the tragic spiral of WWII. Inexplicably, Trudi herself is saved from being sent to the death camps, because although she is arrested, the German officer handling her case lets her go because she saves her life by charming him with her storytelling (à la Scheherazade), plus the fact that he is having an existential sturm und drang crisis that will eventually cost him his life, so we are told.
At the end of the story, Trudi reveals that the reason she has told this story is to honor the boy who was once her best friend Georg, and to tell each person's story. She also expounds on the imagery of the river, drawing comparisons to herself and the accumulation of experiences of her life. As a pretext, it is pretty flimsy. In terms of storytelling, it is a reasonable effort, but it does tend to meander and get lost in different eddies and currents that might make you think that they are leading somewhere as part of a directed narrative with deliberate construction, when in fact the end result is a sequence of tangentially linked incidents. That is the problem that historical novels often face: they are driven by the necessities of telling the story to fit the historical facts as they unfolded, as opposed to having a literary and narrative structure. Author Ursula Hegi also has a bit of trouble handling the large number of characters. Because there are so many characters, she ends up having to provide contextual information each time they reappear. The result is that the writing becomes over expository. The reader is given all of the information, interpretations, and explanations; there is nothing subtle, nothing that goes unstated. It is a reasonably good story, but not a great novel.
Profile Image for Debbie Zapata.
1,789 reviews37 followers
November 17, 2019
A grim book about grim years. This is the story of a town in Germany from 1915 to 1952. More specifically, this is the story of a woman of that town and her relationship to other people and to the world.

Trudi was born with dwarfism. We see life through her eyes, through her experiences. We get to know most of the people in the town (and there are a lot of them) and how they respond to Trudi. We see how she creates a life for herself and how she deals with her physical limitations. Trudi is a strong character, but honestly not very likable even while you admire her courage.

There are many themes to the book, which feels appropriate, since that time in history was immensely complex. I am not sure that one reading allows a person to pick up completely on everything that is going on. And frankly, I thought the ending was a bit odd, but maybe that was simply because it was not at all what I was expecting.

Also, I couldn't stop myself from wondering about why the Nazis never came for Trudi for the mere fact of her dwarfism. We all know that they wanted to rid the world of anyone who did not fit their idea of 'Aryan perfection'. Why did they leave Trudi to live throughout the years of the book? I do not believe that would have been possible in real life.

A compelling if difficult book to read, but I do not think I will seek out this author in future.
Profile Image for Tifnie.
536 reviews15 followers
August 13, 2008
This is a book that I would not have picked out for myself to read if it weren't for my mother in-law.

The story, set in German in the early 1900's, is about a courageous blond, blue eyed girl named Trudi Montag who just happens to be a dwarf. Over the course of 4 decades, Trudi, tells you the story of her town, her friends, her physical limitations, her jealousy, and most importantly the Hitler reign that sweeps through her town exterminating all Jews and anyone who tries to help them.

I enjoyed the story to a point. I was increasing frustrated with Trudi and how she used her size as a weapon as well as a shield. Unfortunately for her, she didn't allow herself pleasure because she didn't think of herself as worthy.

This book also raised more awareness and a tenderness for those families who lost lives, who escaped camps, or returned deeply afflicted by Hitler. At one point in the book, the town is returning to "normal" after WWII and Trudi wants to ask people about thier experience though she is urged to "let it go". Trudi says...she doesn't want people to forget this ever happened and by talking about, you keep it alive.

It also brought awareness to how the American government closed immigration of Jews to the US when Hitler started reeking havoc. However, Americans came to the rescue AFTER millions of Jews died.

It's a part of history that I need to read and remember.

PS When the story took on the grave details of Jews disappearing and some details about the death camps, it reminded me of "Snow Falling on Cedars" and how the American's took, um, stole land from the Japanese and sent them to "camps". Hmmm - all this shortly after the shocking news of what Hitler did.
Profile Image for Mara.
392 reviews19 followers
July 3, 2008
Some books disappoint on a second reading, but not this one. When it came time for my book club to read this book I was very excited, because I remembered that I really liked it the first time I read it. And I was not disappointed. I think I liked this book at least as much the second time around as the first.

This is a story with two contrasting themes. One is difference. Told mostly from the perspective of Trudi, a dwarf, who feels how different she is from the members of her community on a daily basis. And she sees how difference in others is persecuted under the Nazis.

The other theme of this book is community. One thing I really liked about this book is how we come to know so many members of Trudi's community throughout their lives. We understand as well as Trudi does why certain members of the community do certain things, because we have known them almost as long as she has. Hegi does a wonderful job of bringing the whole community to life.

And she is more than equal to the task of describing what the advent of Nazism does to this small German community. She does not shy away from the people who enthusiastically embrace Hitler and his party, but she does portray in a more sympathetic way those who at least question Hitler's policies.

Rather than making a judgment call, though, based on how her characters respond to the Third Reich, Hegi seems more interested in demonstrating the range of responses that existed in a small town, and how those differing responses change the character of the town itself.
Profile Image for Noce.
203 reviews279 followers
November 19, 2011
Sul come la recensionista sbarazzina si lasci andare a rivelazioni autobiografiche che vanno ben oltre i suoi dati anagrafici

Quando andai a Trieste per l'Università, non so se per la legge degli opposti, o per la tendenza bislacca della vita a scherzare coi pardossi, mi ritrovai a frequentare assiduamente due bellezze indigene.
La Betta e La Claudia erano due valchirie alte 1,80 ciascuna, bionde, fascinose, giunoniche e con proporzioni da manuale.
Il primo anno eravamo inseparabili. Ma ovviamente c'era anche il rovescio della medaglia. Io esistevo solo per loro. Tutti gli altri non mi vedevano.
Per quanto anch'io vantassi delle proporzioni canoniche, e guardassi il mondo con due occhi da cerbiatta, come solo le ventenni sanno fare, dal basso del mio 1,63, quando stavo con loro, diventavo magicamente invisibile. Non c'era verso di spiccare manco grazie alla mia pelle ambrata, che faceva da contrasto alle loro pelli seducenti, ma chiare come il calcestruzzo.
Così quando accadeva che qualche ragazzo si fermasse a parlare con noi, la conversazione rimaneva sempre ad altezza sventole (nel senso letterale della parola).
L'asterisco nero coi capelli arruffati, in mezzo ai due punti luminosi passava in secondo piano, anzi.. al pian terreno.
All'epoca risolsi il problema frequentando di meno le stangone, e mettendomi col fratello della Betta; che sfiorava gli 1,90 e faceva collezione di fatine in miniatura, e che probabilmente mi aveva notato per associazione di idee.

Allora di certo, non l'avrei saputo cogliere, ma adesso potrei dire che quell'invisibilità coatta aveva un po' il sapore della frustrazione, a cui non facevo troppo caso, perché mitigato dalla leggerezza di una matricola universitaria, che ha toute la vie devant soi per rifarsi.

Trudi, la protagonista del libro, non avrebbe potuto gestire la cosa con la mia stessa noncurante faciloneria. Prché lei invisibile ci è nata.
E la coattività della sua frustrazione non dipende dal non volerne uscire, ma dal nanismo. Che in quanto malformazione genetica, non lo puoi togliere e chiudere nel terrazzino come fosse lo stendino dei panni.
Se i libri potessero essere concepiti come capi double-face, Come pietre nel fiume sarebbe la parte calda e vellutata de Il tamburo di latta. Laddove nel secondo trionfa il lucido cinismo, nel primo impera la potenza dell'umanità.
E così Trudi, soffre, si dispera, lotta e alla fine trova il modo per sopravvivere alla cattiveria della gente e alla guerra. Un modo tutto suo sicurmente, ma molto più duraturo e profondo, di quello che poterebbe escogitare chi si appoggia al comfort di un corpo normale.

Insomma: il nanismo è come il grasso.
Va saputo portare.
E Trudi lo porta in modo impareggiabile.
Una grande lezione in un piccolissimo corpo.
Profile Image for Bonnie Brody.
1,193 reviews187 followers
March 7, 2012
Sometimes I get to read a book that is not only great, but is also life-affirming a and life changing. 'Stones from the River' is that kind of a book.

This epic-like novel spans from 1915-1952 and takes place in Germany. Told from the vantage point of Trudi, a 'zwerg' (the German word for 'dwarf'), she recounts pre- and post-war Germany in her small town. Because she is tiny in stature she is often discounted and thought of as childlike. This is far from the truth. She is intelligent and wise. Because others often discount her, she gets to listen in on conversations and make observations without others paying any attention to her.

She observes and weaves mythic and morality tales to explore the diversity of the human spirit. Her tales of Germany during World War II were eye-opening for me. Because of the Holocaust, I did not have any particular desire to visit Germany prior to reading this book. After reading it, I have decided that I really want to visit Germany.

Trudi does a lot of self-examination and tries to understand the actions of her friends and acquaintances during World Wars I and II. She looks at the people who stood proud and with honor, many of whom acted with courage and faith. Many of the people in her town acted with exemplary courage and they are pillars for all of us.

Though this book is in novel form, Ms. Hegi knows her history and I even wonder if she experienced some of this firsthand or had these stories told to her by family members or friends. This is a book that I recommend for everyone. It will bring you to tears, laughter and ultimately show you the best that resides in all of us.
Profile Image for Johnna Adams.
7 reviews5 followers
August 7, 2007
I am lucky that I was trapped on a train for six hours going to Hartford and back, or I think I would have had a hard time getting into this one. Ultimately, it was a lovely and rewarding book-- but the first couple of hundred pages are all setup and a bit difficult to sludge through.

The book is about Trudi Montag, a young dwarf in rural Germany born to a WWI soldier and a crazy woman who grows up to defy the Nazis during WWII in her small town. The WWII portion of the book is fascinating and gripping. The large cast of small town characters provides an epic storyline and ample room for the author, Hegi, to play out a variety of dramatic wartime fates in creative detail.

Trudi's childhood, however, is less interesting and her post-war activity is almost entirely unmemorable (although such a short part of the book that hardly matters).

Ultimately, it is not a story of dramatic heroism, but about small and domestic heroic journeys -- which was very deftly handled. Certainly you walk away from the book feeling as if you and Trudi and her father Leo are all good friends and that they are courageous and admirable people well worth knowing.

I seem to remember reading a comparison to Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird somewhere. There is a limited similarity in that they are both set in rural Germany during WWII. But, Kosinski's work is by far the stronger-- although if you found his novel too graphic, too disturbing, and too painful, Stones From the River is a much easier and less challenging variation on a similar theme.
Profile Image for Sandra.
914 reviews249 followers
September 1, 2015
Bellissimo romanzo, incentrato sul tema della "diversità"e della difficoltà della sua accettazione per chi la vive. La protagonista è Trudi Montag, una bambina, ragazza e poi donna "zwerg", nana. Per tutto il libro risuona questa parola, che sempre ricorda a Trudi la sua diversità. All'interno della storia di Trudi si svolge la tragedia della Germania che diventa nazista. Del nazismo e della guerra viviamo le tragedie attraverso gli occhi e i racconti di Trudi.Ogni accadimento, bello o brutto, della vita rimane impresso nell'animo della protagonista come pietre nel fiume, sulle quali l'acqua passa levigandole.Bellissimo!
Profile Image for Deborah Escobar.
Author 1 book2 followers
August 12, 2008
This book brought home what it was like to live in World War II era Germany and gave me new understanding of the Nazi takeover and what it meant for German residents. It was also somewhat spooky in that regard, that some people were so wholeheartedly caught up in the militaristic regime, and that it was not safe for others to speak out. It made me think of that line from poetry, what we at first abhor we first come to tolerate, and then embrace. Excellent book.
Profile Image for Joy.
118 reviews32 followers
August 18, 2016
Amazing!!! I have read one other book by Hegi, and now I want to read all her works. This book took me a long time to read, but mostly it was because I wanted to savor it. And read every. Single. Word. I loved these characters, and I enjoyed spending time with them, sharing in their stories, reveling in the words that made them come to life. My heart broke with and for some of them. Hegi has a way of bringing her characters to life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Julie Richert-Taylor.
221 reviews5 followers
April 17, 2022
A beautiful, moving tribute to the pervasive power of stories: the ones we tell to others or ourselves, the ones we hear, especially the ones we believe. It reveals how we use them to frame our world -help ourselves make sense of it -even offer some control of the way we engage with our own realities.
Aside from the tremendous character development and flawed charm of the protagonist, I found this a terribly courageous look at the roots of how a town, a people and a nation could so succumb to gradualism and to something as unspeakable as the Holocaust. The author never flinches from exposing all of the self-deceptions, excuses, rationalizations, and cowardice, just as she gives us glimpses of how many tried, in every way they knew, to make a difference in changing its course, or saving even just one.
Many passages as carefully layered as this one:
Politics were like history. Only they were happening now. But they were linked to history. Her father had told her about the feudal system, in which people used to get land from lords in return for total allegiance. Like fighting in battles. "We Germans have a history of sacrificing everything for one strong leader," her father had said. "It's our fear of chaos."

And later:
"But I worry about the German attraction for one strong leader, one father figure who makes you obey, who is strong enough to make you obey....Who tells you 'This is the right thing to do.' I worry about the belief that our strength is a military strength."

All of this plays out through the years and years of simple life in a simple small town that showcases in quietly intimate ways how ordinary people absorb, and pass through such a blight of human history.
We make choices of how to view our world. Above all else, I feel this novel impresses one with the responsibility of those choices
Profile Image for Stephanie.
144 reviews3 followers
October 2, 2012
First of all, I could have done without all the sexual moments. I know this is part of life, which is what this book is about, but much of it wasn't necessary. It ruined the book for me. I read this book with a lot of apprehension - not trusting it and expecting something horrible at any moment.

That being said, this book captures human emotions of all kinds, but focuses on being different. One of the morals I took from this story is how we let our differences become barriers. Like Trudi we often assume others are scorning our differences, when in reality many people don't notice or plain just don't care. We all walk through life with our own pair of "reality glasses", and this book reminds us that we all have a different perspective and a different pair of glasses.

This book is full of despair and suffering. I was hoping throughout that something wonderful would happen to someone, but even good things turned bad in the end. I've read depressing books before, but the author usually leads the reader to believe that despite the hardships, people are resilient and will carry on. There is usually some bright hope in the future. I just didn't get this same feeling from this book. Maybe it was just me, or maybe nothing good did come out of Germany in the 1940s, but I felt that these characters were just going to have to endure life's continuing disappointments until the day they died, either of old age or at their own hands.

Now, I need to go find me a fluffy book to read to get this one out of my head.
Profile Image for Mary.
49 reviews4 followers
August 22, 2014
I was very disappointed in this book. I didn't care for the main character... Like, literally, I couldn't have cared less what happened to her.

Nor did I understand her. How could she remember everything about her mother from the time she was born? Her mother died before she turned 4 and she remembered everything? And she is psychic, I guess? All of these understandings of family secrets and approaching deaths... How? What? I didn't understand her character at all.

There were way too many characters in this book, I could not keep everyone straight. It could be because I found this book so tedious that it took me A MONTH to read because I just. did. not. care. about weird dwarf Trudi and her creepy psychic abilities.

And the ending? I have no idea what happened in the ending. But, it was dull and incomprehensible, just like the rest of this book. Anyone want to explain the ending? I am obviously not intellectual enough to work it out on my own, but I was very very glad that it was finally over.
Profile Image for Reindert Van Zwaal.
148 reviews9 followers
December 20, 2015
Although there was not really a story going on, there were quite some interesting chapters and touching things. Overall it was not really a book that keeps you willing to read on. More like a movie in which there is no tension at all.
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