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The main character in the story is a German "zwerg" woman (a midget) named Trudi. The reader gets to see the inner and hidden thoughts of the "zwerg" woman as well as her longings to have a lover and a child of her own. When she finally does experience a beautiful romance, she keeps it a secret because it seems like something from a dream. To shift people's thoughts from her differences, Trudi spreads stories about all the townspeople through her gossip at the pay library that she and her father owns. STONES FROM THE RIVER takes place before and during World War II in a small German town. Through Trudi's acquaintances with the townspeople, the author introduces the reader to the characters in the town. Thus, the reader gets a sense of how people reacted as Hitler spread his propoganda throughout Germany. Some people, like Trudi and her father, hid Jews in their homes or were punished for showing kindess to them. Others spouted hate and turned against their neighbors to hopefully save their own lives. People felt pressure to join clubs and wear the colors of the party even when they did not agree with what the party was doing (although some actually did agree). The children were fed with so much propaganda in their schools that they often turned their own parents in for not being loyal to the party without understanding what they were doing.
This was definitely an insightful book and not soon to be forgotten. The author fills the book with so many characters and small stories about each of them that I did sometimes find myself confused when a character would suddenly resurface and I couldn't remembering what happened to that character 200 pages back when they were 10 years younger. I should have written downs the characters' names and something about them as I went along. There were times when I couldn't put the book down, times that I laughed, and times that I wanted to cry. All in all, it was a great find and highly recommended to others.
Yes, it was that good.
The second time I read it was for the pure pleasure of Hegi's words. Her powerful voice is translated through Trudi Montog, the main character. A German girl whom happens to be a dwarf (Zwerg) A misfit. Who hangs from doorframes until her fingers are numb. "Grow, grow!" she prays to an ineffective God...why else would he create her short, stubby, ugly, and utterly despicable.
But she was given a gift. The wonderful gift of story-telling. This will save her as humour saves the character in "A Beautiful Life" or at least made life tolerable.
In the midst of Trudie's battles, Hitler is rising. Slowly, like a cancer spreading. Jews are being taken from their homes, disappearing, losing their German passports, given a yellow star to wear on their chests.
Nobody believes it is really happening.
"They are only working at those camps." they say.
INDIFFERENCE is worse than anything. Indifference makes monsters grow.
"Stones From the River" is about the human condition during war. How it can sometimes turn us into animals, Intolerant of our differences. Hating one another because of them.
Who understands better than Trudie about the ugliness of being different...."They will find anything. Anything to separate one from another. Widows. Jews. Swergs. Madness. Hitler will find something."
"Stones" is not an easy read. I wanted to scream at times...WHY did you all let this happen? WHY?" And at the same time...the story was so beautiful, I carry some of the sentences around like jewels to savor later.
In the end, Trudie accepts herself as she is...too much has already happened to feel sorry for herself now.
..."And what to end the story with. It had to do with what to enhance and what to relinquish. And what to embrace." ...STONES
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I wanted a book that would give me an English Colonialist view of India. It is a rather hard thing to find: few English Victorian writers of any consequence wrote about India. It wasn't until later, ie, Orwell and Forster, that it became a popular topic, and they wrote with a vastly different attitude. I just wanted to know what an Englishman thought of the "jewel in the English colonial crown".
What I found is exactly what I wanted: so exactly that it caught me off guard. Kipling offers no politics, neither "problems of England in India" or "The White Man's Burden". Kim is, quite simply, a vision of India. Exuberant, complex, vibrant, full of energy and life and change. This is Kipling's India. It is a beautiful, mysterious, dangerous, amazing place.
There is a hint of mass market fiction here -- the basic structure being a young boy, a prodigy, uniquely equipped to help the adults in important "adult" matters -- reminds me of Ender's Game or Dune (both books I loved, but not exactly "literature". But perhaps this isn't either. Such was the claim of critic after critic. But anyway.) Yet in reality it is only a device -- an excuse for Kipling to take his boy on adventures and to immerse us more fully in the pugnant waters of Indian culture -- or cultures.
As far as the English/Colonialism question goes, perhaps the real reason Kipling drew so much flak is because he deals his English critics the most cruel insult -- worse than calling them evil, or stupid, or wrong, he implies that they just don't matter that much. Kipling's India is a diverse place, with a plethora of people groups in it, divided by caste, religion, ethnicity, whatever. And the English, the "Sahibs"? Another people group. That's all. They don't dominate or corrupt or really change anything in any profound way; they just sort of become part of the broiling swirl of cultures and peoples that is India.
I thought some passages were quite remarkable for a writer at the height of the British Raj, such as the occasional sympathetic treatment of Indians and the allowance of deep relationships between the conquerors and the conquered (e.g., Kim and Mahbub Ali). The feeling of youth is well-given and Kipling succeeds at making the horror of imperialism both remote and romantic.
In time, Kim's parentage and talents are "discovered" by the British and he is drafted and trained to be a participant within the Great Game; a political battle between Russia and Britain for control of Central Asia. Lama and student seek their disparate goals together as they traverse the plains of India, hike Himalayan foothills, and discourse along the way.
I found myself completely rapt by the book and longing to return to it. The characters are splendidly wrought and the descriptions of India and its' people enthralling. Though previous reviews tell of difficult reading, I found it nothing of the sort. One must orient themselves to the vernacular employed, but this isn't in any way trying for those attuned to historical reading. Some previous knowledge of the Great Game and the British Raj would also be helpful. Be that as it may, with remarkable ease the reader is absorbed and transported by this tale to wander India, late 19th century, with Kim and his Tibetan holy man amidst the intrigue of colonial rivalry and the mysticism of Eastern belief. Rudyard Kiplings' "Kim" has rightfully earned a place among my favorite novels of all time. There is no higher praise by which I might recommend it.
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However, I can't agree with definition of this particular layer of the Russian language presented in this book as "real Russian." That's not true, I've met many folks born and raised in Russia who never ever use that "real Russian" of Mr Topol et al.
Russians who have NEVER been exposed to other "real" cultures of the world, they grow up believing that they are unique with their dirty words, there are so many jokes in Russia on that matter. However, in reality Russians in their everyday speech practice are not much different from other civilized nations; you don't hear more obscenities in the streets of Moscow than in New York or Tijuana. You can get in as much trouble in Moscow misusing these "real" words and phrases as you would here in Nevada. With these words, you can lose a contract, a friend, a date; for most educated girls from good families in Russia one single word from Mr Topol's book used at a wrong time will act as IMMEDIATE and FINAL turn off.
The Russians grow up learning by trial and error when they can use specific language and when they absolutely can not. I've heard swear masters in Russia speaking like Mother Goose when they had to.
When foreigners try to speak "real", the reaction of natives can not be predicted. You may have some hearts opened, you may get smiles and a pat on the back, but depending on your intonation and attitude your face may face one of these tight clenched well seasoned made with pride in Russia genuine and real Russian Bad Street Battle Fist(TM) flying on the collision course doing about 100 mph...
If you did not grow up in Russia playing with your real Russian classmates in the nursery school, don't even try to use Mr Topol's book recommendations at your own discretion. Quite likely you may end up making a fool from yourself.
Organized by category [rather than alphabetically], the reader is taken through the basics of everyday slang, anatomy and physiology, and (of course) curses, oaths, and exclamations. The Russian words and phrases are in Cyrillic, with English phonetic pronunciation (helpful if you're learning "conversational" Russian and aren't up on reading it just yet). A great deal of supplemental info is included (such as history behind expressions, just *how* vulgar is a word, etc.), but not so much that it becomes tedious.
I highly recommend Dermo! to anyone who will be dealing with actual, living & breathing Russians. As a colleague who teaches Russian (and recommends this book to her students) told me, "You will never understand Russians until you learn to curse -- at least a little."
However, the story finally becomes interesting when Marlene supposedly hides a young boy who has escaped from a work camp. She becomes involved with a German officer who complicates her life. Marlene begins to learn the truth about the war by listening to an illegal radio that is eventually seized. These are the only interesting events in the entire novel.
As a reader I resented not knowing what was true and what the author fabricated. I would have preferred the truth.
Three months after completing this book in our bookclub, we still find ourselves returning to this book as a point of departure for discussing our other readings.
Having previously read, many of Ursula Hegi's books, I was not disappointed with a continuation of some of the characters from her "Stones from the River". This book is also equal to that wonderful book. Here as usual you get in the skin of her characters, from their observations to their priorities and justifications.
In this book emigrant Stefan Blau comes to the US and eventually settles in a small town in New Hampshire. He has picked up the skill for French cooking and does well for himself in a small restaurant he creates. However, this is not his dream. His dream is an apartment building he is inspired to build: The Wasserburg. In a daydream while boating, he is inspired not only by the building he imagines creating, but a child he imagines playing in its courtyard.
Stefan's financial adventures go well, but his personal life is troubled. Things go on that bring one misfortune to the other to his doorstep. I don't want to go into too much detail and ruin the book, but this book isn't all doom and gloom. This is a not-so-typical families saga, with both good and bad. However, there are forces in Stefan Blau's life that eventually steer him to lead his life in a particular fashion. This book chronicles Stefan Blau's family over 3 generations and 2 continents. An excellent tale of a family, the ties that contrict, bind, bond and break one.
SOLID SENSE OF EACH CHARACTER AND WHO THEY ARE:
As always Ursula Hegi fleshes out her characters. You understand the motivation of Stefan and his family right down to the youngest grandchild Emma. Not till the end of the book do you understand the meaning of the name... At least I didn't.
YOU CAN PICTURE THE WASSERBURG:
What I particularly liked is the description of the house. You can see it through the author's eyes. I love houses so this was pleasant. Also, you see the basis for all the characters, but not in a descriptive way. You get in their skin. This story centers around a community and a family living in this one building.
YOU CAN IMAGINE BEING GERMAN AND IN AMERICAN DURING WWII LEFT YOU FEELING DIVIDED.
One other point, I imagine dear to Ursula Hegi's heart is the portrayal of a German family in American when Germany was the enemy. She describes how the immagrant family feels out of place in both country, but beholden to both.
An excellent read, hard to put down.