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Sunday, May 20, 2007

We Plumb the Depths of Stones From the River

Jennifer started our discussion of Stones From the River, by Ursula Hegi, with a fascinating introduction: first stating that she had gone to college in Washington, where Ursula Hegi, the author, had been a professor at the time. Jennifer didn't know Hegi well, but she had noticed that Hegi attended various support groups in the school community, so Jennifer postulated that Hegi was doing research for this book. Then Jennifer told us a little about her childhood in Germany. She said it was a lot like the way of life depicted in the book, with the poverty and remnants of destruction as themes and the gradual climbing up. She said that people claimed they didn't know what was happening during the Holocaust. We had some discussion about that; about how people could be living their day-to-day lives and could be told lies to explain the few oddities that were noticeable about the slaughter going on around them and could believe the lies...for a while.

We discussed how the rest of the world seemed to blame all Germans for many years. The German stereotype is of a very structured, closed, strict, rigid, almost military person. Yet Phyllis told us that during her childhood, she lived in a mostly German community, and, as a child, found the German people to be very warm and nurturing. Her family was close with the German community, though they weren't German.

We didn't get through too many of the questions Jennifer brought, since our discussion meandered. We established that the use of the dwarf as the protagonist was a literary tool, in that people could be more willing to tell their stories to Trudi because she was an outsider and less likely to tall tales to others within the social group that the people felt they belonged to. For Trudi, keeping people's secrets allowed her a chance to be closer to them and also gave her some power over them. Also, since Trudi was so different from the others, who tended to be closed to emotional expression, it worked for her to have lots of emotional expression. That way, there was some emotional opinion about the situation, which helped the author to slant the interpretation of the story where she wanted it to go.

An interesting theory that I believe was Frank's idea was that the author made Trudi physically unappealing on the outside but good on the inside as a contrast to the Aryan Nazi's fairness with a monster on the inside.

Stones From the River book is an important book; you'll find that most well-read folks will have read it. Another good book and enriching discussion for us!

Dee’s Comment from Mexico:
Ursula Hegi spent much of her adult life in America coming to grips with the Germany of her birth. This book seems to be a catharsis for her to work out her inner demons. Born post World War 2, she had a youth filled with people who avoided mention of the current past. Her book Stones from the River is an attempt to deal with the uglier & seamier side of modern Germany history.
The Character Trudy is the window that we view the book through & she seems to hold all of the secrets of the people in her town. Her character is a dwarf. Seeing that her mother has psychological issues it makes me wonder if the character of Trudy used by Ursula may have been a Psychogenic Dwarf, Psychosocial dwarfism or Stress dwarfism is a growth disorder that is observed in young children & pre adolescents & is caused by extreme emotional deprivation or stress. This disease is a progressive one, and as long as the child is left in the stressing environment. It is often seen in children kept in abusive, confined conditions for extended lengths of time. It can cause the body to completely stop growing but is generally considered to be temporary; regular growth will resume when the source of stress is removed. One would think that the stress of being a child in WWII in Germany could produce such stress considering all that went on. Just one more thing to wonder about in this wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, read it when Oprah's book club selected it in the late 1990s. I am glad you all decided to read this as one of your selections, it is one of the few books I brought with me to Mexico that I figured I would enjoy rereading! I am thrilled to know where we are moving in June we will have a few more English Language book resources. Adios, book group friends!

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