Review of STONES FROM THE RIVER by URSULA HEGI
With this novel, Hegi crafts a sweeping tale about prejudice and belonging. On a wider scale, the book follows World War II from the perspective of the Germans, while on a smaller scale we live through the eyes of Trudi, a dwarf but more importantly an intelligent, tenacious woman driven to bitterness by the ostracization of her peers.
The first half the novel focuses on Trudi’s individual struggle fitting in as a dwarf starting from childhood. She starts collecting secrets about people as she learns that: 1. Secrets give you power. And 2. People like gossip. Then the storyline shifts as the Nazis come to power. All of Trudi’s grudges, which felt so justified earlier, start to feel petty in comparison to the horrors taking place around her.
While I enjoyed most of this novel, I did grow bored around the halfway point and set it down for perhaps three months before resuming. When I did resume, it felt like I had given up right before the story picked up its pace, so I suppose there’s kind of a “calm before the storm” feel to the plot as it transitions from Trudi’s personal grievances to the larger scale atrocities being committed by Nazis.
There’s a huge cast of characters in this novel, which I always enjoy. Far too many to list in a review. I particularly like Trudi’s father, a classic personality: the grounded, quiet, wise mentor. Leo truly sees his daughter for all her unique strengths, but he also recognizes how the world will see her and doesn’t try to shield her from the reality that many people won’t look past her differences.
I also love that this book continues past World War II, following aftermath in Germany. So many World War II novels cut off during the war, usually because they’re telling a more focused story about one or a few individuals who didn’t fare well during that time. However, this novel has a wide scope. It doesn’t feel so much like it’s about World War II but rather that’s one of the many things that happens in the story. The book begins well before and continues on after the war, remaining true to the themes of prejudice and belonging.