1. Why did Hegi choose a dwarf as her protagonist? How do the other characters respond to Trudi's "otherness"? How do you?
2. What compels Trudi to unearth people's secrets? She uses these stories as a means of exchange and a tool for bartering, disclosing some secrets while holding back others, enhancing where she sees fit. What drives her to repeat and embellish the stories she hears? What need in her does it fulfill? Why, in contrast, does Trudi keep her own secrets hidden? How does her desire to possess secrets and her urge to tell stories change as the story progresses?
3. Hegi portrays Trudi as a woman capable of both enormous rage and great compassion. The same woman who takes Max Rudnick a note which reads "I have seen you, and I find you too pitiful to consider," risks her life when she hides Jews in her cellar. How does Hegi reconcile these differences in her main character?
4. When Trudi is fourteen years old, four schoolboys drag her into a barn and molest her. Trudi is profoundly affected -- in what ways does this immediately change her? How does it continue to shape her in the coming years? Is Trudi ever able to overcome it? How?
5. During the war, Trudi risks her life and her father's by hiding Jews in their cellar. How does this forever transform her relationship to people? What impact do her actions have on the town, and how does it change her standing in Burgdorf? How does Hegi develop the character of Leo? He is a constant support beam to the townspeople and to Trudi -- how does he tie the story together? How are Leo and Trudi different from each other, and in what ways are they similar?
6. How does Hegi develop the character of Leo? He is a constant support beam to the townspeople and to Trudi -- how does he tie the story together? How are Leo and Trudi different from each other, and in what ways are they similar?
7. As Nazism encroaches on Burgdorf, Hegi's characters are confronted with moral dilemmas that go far beyond their ordinary experience. What are the different ways in which the townspeople react? What reasons does Hegi suggest for their varying emotions and actions? What do you think you might have done differently in their place?
8. After Michael Abramowitz is taken away and beaten by Nazis, his wife has a thought that she never voices: "Given a choice, she would rather be the one who was persecuted than the one who did the persecuting." Do you think this is a feeling shared by other Jews during the war? By ordinary Germans? How would you choose?
9. We do not learn until late in the story that Emil Hesping is the unknown benefactor. We discover that all the years he has been giving gifts to the people of Burgdorf, he has been embezzling money from the gymnasium. How do you feel when he is killed for removing Hitler's unwelcome statue from the town square? The unknown benefactor symbolically counteracts some of the pain Hitler's tyranny has caused. What is Hegi saying about the relation of good deeds to justice?
10. After the war, many of Burgdorf's townspeople refuse to speak of the war years, pretending that they took no part in the war's evils. What compels them to participate in this complicity of silence? What do you believe can happen to a people when they collectively bury a memory? What purpose does it serve to bring out the truth and to never forget it?
11. What is the significance of making Trudi and her father the town librarians? Why do you think Hegi uses a library as her novel's principal setting?
12. How are Burgdorf's women affected by their country's history? Think of Renate Eberhardt, who is turned in by her Nazi son; Ingrid, the young woman searching for divinity; Jutta, the strong and beautiful wife of Klaus Malteri Hanna, the -- baby Trudi loves too much; Eva Sturm, who was not protected by her husband, Alexander. What pain and atrocities are visited on the women specifically?
13. What vision of human nature does Stones from the River express? Does Hegi perceive human beings as fundamentally good, evil, or indifferent? As immutable or capable of transformation?
14. In Stones from the River, Hegi uses both stones and the river symbolically. What significance does the phrase "stones from the river" acquire in the course of the novel, both for Trudi and the reader? How does Trudi use the stones as a means of self expression? What does the river mean to Trudi, and how does Hegi develop it as a metaphor?
Stones from the River
by Ursula Hegi
- Publication Date: March 1, 1995
- Paperback: 525 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- ISBN-10: 068484477X
- ISBN-13: 9780684844770
Hilda Raz has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a poet, editor of a literary magazine, and college professor. Her work, poetic, scholarly, and editorial, is widely recognized, and her influence can be felt—as a director, award judge, and contributor—in this country's most prestigious poetry journals and contests. But Raz's life, like so many, has not been defined only by hard work and recognition; she has also battled breast cancer, about which she has written poetry describing the survivor not only as a victim of cancer's ravages but also as a voyager into new worlds.
One of Raz's longest-running contributions has been as editor for the nationally recognized literary journal Prairie Schooner, published out of the University of Nebraska's English department. Reviewing the literary magazine for the Library Journal in 1992, Bill Katz noted that it had celebrated its 65th year in print; the celebratory issue included such writers as Ursula Hegi, David Kaplan, Leo Litwak, Linda Pastan, and Nancy Willard. The journal regularly includes new fiction and poetry as well as reviews of recently published creative work. Katz lauded the publication as "one of America's longest-lived, proudest literary achievements."
Raz has also managed a feat not easily accomplished by any busy editor: she has published her own collections of poetry. Divine Honors, Raz's most recent publication, records in part the progress of her battle with cancer and the beginnings of her recovery; it also includes poems about significant figures in her life, including her grandfather and an imagined daughter ("my harmonious daughter far away/ whose play is radiance. Let her live"). But most of the poems refer directly or indirectly to Raz's experience with the disease, with the bodily, spiritual, and mental dimensions intertwined. "Now, each breath a gift, the soar in air/ of hawks on the highway searching for road kill:/ some sure sign I'm present." The poems have an air of returning to familiar territory from a radically altered perspective, perhaps because the poet has survived a deadly disease.
Some poems refer very directly to the bodily alterations that accompany a mastectomy. One, "Petting the Scar," gives a sensual and unique vision of the mastectomy scar: "But the scar!/ Riverroad, meandering root, stretched coil, wire chord, embroidery in its hoop, mine, my body./ Oh, love!" In "Breast/fever" Raz writes "My new breast is two months old,/ gel used in bicycle saddles/ for riders on long-distance runs,/ stays cold under my skin/ when the old breast is warm." The reviewer from Publishers Weekly felt that such lines contained "an almost cruel clarity," but other reviewers seemed to appreciate Raz's lucid yet hardly clinical perspective. Indeed, such sharp-eyed and sharply felt descriptions are interwoven with more lyrical and elegaic language: "Where I am now/ every ecstasy dissolves/ back into the pool,/ the lap of waves,/ the filled basin."
Divine Honors was praised by most reviewers. Bette-Lee Fox, writing for the Library Journal, considered Divine Honors a book for poetry connoisseurs, "[n]ot a solace in verse form for the average cancer patient." She recommended it for all poetry collections. Despite the Publishers Weekly reviewer's reservations about some of Raz's language, the review noted that "her language can be incantatory, the images compelling" and that "Raz brings intelligence and imagination" to the portrayal of her experience.