Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stones from the River

It was nice to finally have a book to talk about that we had all enjoyed and felt strongly about.  Both Carolyn and Diana came with notes and the rest of us marked up our books - sorry library - I'll get those marks erased and the book returned this week.  I think I had marked at least ten pages and many of the things we talked about were noted by all of us.

Even though published 25 years ago, we felt the book had a lot of social relevance to America's current political climate.  Leo observed on a couple occasions that the Germans were looking for a one strong leader who could make you obey...Who tells you:  This is the right thing to do." Hegi uses Leo's observations as balance to all the people who think the Fuhrer will bring Germany back from it's humiliation from WWI.  Carolyn had noted Leo's observation that "they lived in a country where believing had taken the place of knowing." 

Hegi took the narrator's license at times:  "They didn't know that they were giving their power away, didn't know that - by the time the Nazi regime would become bloated and monstrous with that power - it would be too dangerous for the people to reclaim that power."  She allowed Herr Abramowitz to tell his wife that her ability to adapt" is far more dangerous to you than any of them will ever be.  You'll keep adapting and adapting until nothing is left," and many of her characters weighed in on what their silence and acceptance had cost them.

Kareen said this was the first time she could remember reading about the Holocaust from the German perspective and felt it provided a new perspective to the genre.  That was the setting for what Mary, Kareen and Joann all agreed on was a book about differences, acceptance and community.  Diana had marked "it was amazing to discover how many reasons other than size could turn you into an outsider - your religion, your race, your opinions."  We wondered if in reality Trudi would have escaped the camps and Joann said that when she was arrested at the concert, she was certain that was where Trudi was headed.  It's impossible to synthesize such a complex book but we did think that Hegi chose a Zwerg as her protagonist as a parallel to the Jewish otherness.  Frau Abramowitz told Trudi that it's important to never lose your dignity because it meant a loss of dignity if she rebelled against authority, while to Trudi just rage carried its own dignity.  We saw rage as her armor as well as her dignity.

Trudi's strength of character came from her ability to step over the loneliness and hurt she experienced.  Max told her that what she was is what made her who is was.  He saw the pain that she had locked away and when Trudi tried to compare Max's pain he stopped her to say, "Ah, but we can't do that - compare our pain.  It minimizes what happens to us, distorts it.  We need to say, yes, this is what happened to me, and this is what I'll do with it."  I thought he was referencing what he knew to be the hurt she had locked away.  Mary said she had taken it a completely different way.  When she had experienced a medical crisis, she downplayed the event and minimized it, reducing her family's ability to engage in what had to be a fearful time for them as well.  I'm always fascinated by what a book speaks to different readers and it's why I love literature.

Mary also wondered if Hegi gave us Max, even though he was the least authentic character to us so that it would soften Trudi's load and make the book not as heavy.  As Kareen noted, he wasn't around long enough to really be much of anything, though he did live on in the story of the naked man by the river.  We liked the title name for the stones, the river and the freedom that Trudi was able to experience when she was released from gravity while swimming.

Mary started the discussion by saying that she loved the entire book but the last four pages confused her  - she wondered what the author was saying.  Kareen had marked a selection at the end that had spoken to her - about raking - and said it's what she had taken away.  Trudi's father had raked the earth behind the library every week and she had learned from him that raking had to do with patience. not every bit of earth would be untangled at once.  She decided her life and the people who loved her stories would be like pulling a rake through the earth.  "The final design wouldn't happen all at one: there would be rearrangement of it all, a fine combing through: there would be perseverance and a reverence for the task.....indeed, a design would emerge."

Several of us said that this would probably go in our top ten, along with Shipping News.  And a good time was had by all~