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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'll Read When the Baby Goes to College: August Book Blog

By Elaine Rooker Jack

The Book: Stones from the River
The Author: Ursula Hegi
The Publication Date: 1994

From Amazon’s Description: “Trudi Montag is a Zwerg - a dwarf - short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share: from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he's a girl, to the Jews Trudi harbors in her cellar.”

Why I recommend it...

This book is set in a small town in Germany between the end of WWI and the end of WWII. If you have ever wondered how the good people of Germany could have “allowed” fascism, take this book as a “walk a mile in their shoes” prescription. Besides all that, Trudi is a fascinating character, a story-teller, a librarian, the quintessential “other,” not always likeable but always understandable.

Stick with it to this point...
I thought the book got off to a slow start, but the promise that she would eventually harbor Jews in her cellar kept me going longer than I might have. Shortly after the time of her mother’s death (page 93, to be precise) I was hooked, even though the war hadn’t even started yet.

Quote From The Book: I only wrote down one sentence from this book, and giving it to you here may be dishonest, because it comes on the second to the last page. But it’s a memorable-enough sentence that I take the chance:

“And throughout all, Trudi wove the assurance for Georg and herself that – once someone has been in your life – you could keep that person there despite the agony of loss, as long as you had faith that you could bring the sum of all your hours together in one shining moment.”

In case you are worried about violence...
The author doesn’t show us any horrors, only the aftermath, as in damage done to men returning from war. There’s mental cruelty, but it is the “one person to another” kind that is, unfortunately, everywhere.

Postscript on Stones: I ran into a friend as I was returning this book. She’d read it years ago and we had a lovely talk about it. Sharing books is a privilege. If you pick up a book at my recommendation and you like it, I’d love to know that.

Other Books I Recommend:
Peaches for Father Francis by Harris: If you saw (or read) and enjoyed Chocolat, this one picks up with the same characters in Lansquenet some years later. I also recommend the second book, The Girl with No Shadow, which has many of the same characters as the first but takes place in Paris. You can read this one without reading either of the other two because the author catches you up on the stuff you need to know, but I suggest you start from the beginning. I predict you will love Vianne Rochet, so why not take the stories in order? But back to this one: told from alternating points of view between Vianne and Father Reynard, the book presents “fresh mysteries involving Muslim immigrants” and makes important points about people of vastly different cultures coming together.

Elsewhere by Zevin -- A novel from the juvenile section, this one is a bit predictable but has an interesting premise. People go to Elsewhere when they die, and age backwards until they return to Earth as babies. The main character is 15 and comes across as about 12, but I guess that way she gets to “grow” from her experiences.

Wave in the Mind by Le Guin -- Okay, I didn’t read the whole book of essays. Years ago I loved her Left Hand of Darkness; Le Guin is quite possibly the First Lady of Science Fiction. Unfortunately I came too late and too old for the Earthsea Trilogy, but I know readers for whom those books were beloved and essential in their formative years. Hand off a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea to a young person you love, and try this book of essays yourself. If you are a writer, particularly a writer of fiction, go right to section four, “On Writing.”

Silver Sparrow by Jones -- “My father is a bigamist,” begins this book, before delving into the lives and perspectives of the man’s very different daughters, one acknowledged, one secret.

Book I Chucked:
The Red House by Haddon -- Haddon gives us some nice sentences and surprisingly refreshing turns of phrase. But the point of view is vegetable soup. He jumps from one character’s perspective to the next like my daughter plays checkers. I listened, so I can’t be sure, but it sounded like he was changing POV within paragraphs. I found myself wool-gathering and then suddenly snapping back to hear some peculiar phrase, with no idea how we got there.


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