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Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi

Ursula’s Hegi’s novel, Stones from the River revolves around the life of Trudi Montag, a dwarf, and the town of Burgdorf from the time of her birth at the end of World War I until after World War II. Born to a mentally disturbed mother who could not at first accept her dwarfism, Trudi luckily would have the support of her mild-mannered father who runs the town’s pay library. A small, traditional German town, Trudi would begin to find as she grew that she was different from others and would seek to identify herself within the context of this society.

From the time Trudi realizes she is different from other children, she becomes obsessed with growing and would hang herself from doorjambs to try and stretch her body into a normal length. However, as she grew older Trudi would find that despite her best efforts to grow upward, her body could only grow out gaining girth and little height. From the onset of her life, Trudi would find herself in a difficult position, feeling both part of the town because it is where her family has roots and an outsider because of her physical infirmity.

Her relationship with her mother would improve but her mother’s mental state could not be cured and she dies when Trudi is only a child leaving her solely to the care of her father. Growing up, Trudi is alternately shunned and accepted by the other town children, forging friendships and connections with the generation of children following the war. Her relationship’s grow from the stubborn innocence of childhood to the resentfulness and anger that result from Trudi’s feelings of difference.

Her childhood friendships with Eva Rosen and Georg, grow from childhood innocence to bitterness as the other children would grow and begin to move away from the small differences that marked them as children into an assimilated adolescence and adulthood. Trudi would be left behind in this as her physical anomaly would not let her grow into normalcy, instead she would remain marked. The widening gap between Trudi and her peers fuels her anger and desire to forge a place for herself within the identity of the town.

She learns to listen to the stories of the town, relaying them at will when she finds it could be in her best interest. As the Nazis rise to power, this difference that so marks Trudi becomes more marked but is overshadowed by the unseen and seen differences of the town and the country’s Jews as they are marked for persecution. With the coming of Hitler, Trudi sees her town separated along the lines of eschewed nationalism which seeks to eradicate not only Jews but also the other imperfections of society to which Trudi could herself belong.

Trudi and her father, along with their neighbors do not follow Hitler’s edicts of race and nationality and would find themselves acting as a temporary shelter for Jews fleeing persecution. However, with the emigration and disappearance of their friends and neighbors, the Montag’s would experience firsthand the separation and disillusionment of war. Throughout the war years, Trudi would come to a kind of acceptance of her body through not only the maturity of age but also through love. However, this would be short-lived as her lover is killed by a bomb.

From this point onward, Trudi would revert to her role in the town of seer and hearer, relaying what gossip she could use and keeping the other for herself. The years following the war, are marked by a tearing down of that old society that would be replaced by a society torn apart by war and nationalism. By the end of the novel, Trudi has lost not only her lover but also her father and the childhood friends and the town she had always known. With the changes in her life and town, she would reflect on her pain and the effects this pain has had on the course of her life and town.

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