Stones from the River
Ursula Hegi, Author
There are so many novels set during World War II, it's hard for me to get excited about this genre (and let's admit it: it is practically its own genre these days). But the small synopsis I read about this book got me intrigued. A dwarf living in World War II Germany!? Now, that's a unique perspective.
Ursula Hegi's choice of a zwerg, or dwarf, as a narrative tool with which to explore the German psyche before, during, and after World War II is brilliant. Hegi probably realized that most Western readers would not have sympathized with a "normal" German character. Trudi therefore not only has the ear of the reader, but also the perception that one gains by being an outsider.
What we learn is important, and God bless Ursula Hegi for not being subtle. I saw it myself when I studied abroad in Germany, and it's disgusting. People outside of Germany seem to think that all Germans during World World II were Nazis, or that they all supported that regime. People even take it a step further, and believe that the Germans living now had some hand in it. I was fairly shocked when some of my fellow classmates asked my language teacher rather accusingly "WHY!?," as though she had set the entire thing in motion. Germany is still burdened by World War II, even though there are not many people from that time still living. We ALL need to move past it. I'm not saying forget; I'm saying forgive.
And as to the "why," Hegi handles the issue exceedingly well. Fear, silence, and dissonance. For some reason, the Western world likes to pretend that no one knew what was happening. We knew. We did not know the extent, but we knew. The German people knew, as well. But they lied to themselves and told themselves that their country was making a comeback and their economy was doing better, so whatever was happening couldn't be that bad. The warning signs did not go unnoticed, but people chose to believe Hitler wouldn't act on half of the things he talked about. Before the country knew it, they had reached that point of no return.
On the other hand, Hegi makes the important point that for almost every one of the people who averted their eyes when they saw a rail freight car filled to the brim with human beings and lied to themselves about it later, there was another person who tried to help, even in the smallest of ways. The thing is, you only ever heard about the people whose attempts at helping were found out.
If you think you're tired of reading about World War II, you should really give this book a try.