Friday, June 17, 2016


Ursula Hegi

One of Ms. Hen’s hen friends gave this book to her some time ago, but she hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. Most of the time, Ms. Hen shies away from reading lengthy novels, because they take a lot of time to read. She’s not sure why she feels this way. It might be because she likes to be able to finish a novel fast.

Even though this was a big book, Ms. Hen couldn’t put it down. It is the story of Trudi Montag, a dwarf (or Zwerg in German) who lives in Germany and is born during World War I when her father is released from the Russian front because of an injury in his leg. When Trudi is born, her mother starts to go crazy. She despairs over the fact that she gave birth to a dwarf child. Her mother drives herself to her death.

Trudi lives with her father, and her whole life she suffers from her affliction because people treat her like a freak since there’s nobody like her in the town. She has some friends, but she loses them eventually. She works in her father’s pay-library and tells stories to everyone in the town about everyone else. She learns people’s secrets and she tells them to people and she thinks it gives her power. When she meets a dwarf woman for the first time, an animal trainer named Pia, at a carnival, Trudi becomes inspired towards self-improvement, but she gets hurt by doing this.

The town, Burgdorf, has to bear the burden of World War II, and Trudi and her father hide Jews in their house, until she is questioned for making a joke about standing up for the flag at a concert. The Jews are slowly removed from the town, and the rumors about what happens in the KZs, concentration camps, horrifies the town. People keep their mouths closed because they don’t want to get sent away, or shot, which happens to some, not just the Jews.

Trudi’s family is Catholic and they go to church regularly. This made Ms. Hen wonder about religion and Catholicism in general and how it forms characters in literature. The Catholic characters Ms. Hen has read about seem to be obsessed with piousness and sin and look for ways to absolve themselves other than saying the Rosary. Ms. Hen is not Catholic and does not believe in original sin, or other kinds of Catholic sin.

STONES FROM THE RIVER reminds Ms. Hen of another book she read recently, THE BASTARD by Violette Leduc, in which the characters were also practicing Catholics at the beginning. Both books go through World War I and II and both the characters are tormented, Leduc because she is a bastard, and Trudi because she is a dwarf. Both books also take place in Europe, THE BASTARD in France, and STONES in Germany. The two books are similar, but are different because THE BASTARD is a memoir, and STONES is a novel. Some of the things in THE BASTARD are too bizarre to have been made up, and they weren’t. Some of the events in STONES are also too strange to be fiction, and Ms. Hen wonders if some of the book is taken from real-life stories that the author knew.

Some hens appeared in this novel, which made Ms. Hen happy. Trudi’s friend Max told her the story of how he lost his job as a teacher. He was building something and his colleague asked him what it was, and he said, “’This will be a chicken coop. And that I build here is thanks to the Fuhrer.’” His colleague didn’t think Max’s statement was funny, and Max was fired for that. In wartime, it wasn’t good to joke about things, even though people used that expression all the time.

Ms. Hen knows some things are no joking matter, like dwarves and war and death. Ms. Hen enjoyed this book so much that while she was reading it she had dreams about it at night while she slept. This doesn’t happen often, but it does when a book and its characters get under Ms. Hen’s skin and she can’t get them out.

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