Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi: DNF and Discussion

stonesfromtherivercoverOfficial Synopsis: From the acclaimed author of Floating in My Mother’s Palm and Children and Fire, a stunning story about ordinary people living in extraordinary times—“epic, daring, magnificent, the product of a defining and mesmerizing vision” (Los Angeles Times).

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.

Ursula Hegi brings us a timeless and unforgettable story in Trudi and a small town, weaving together a profound tapestry of emotional power, humanity, and truth.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Burgdorf, Germany. The book starts in 1915, and goes through and beyond WWII.
My copy came from: The library.

My thoughts: Well, I knew this would happen sooner or later, and I’m saddened to say that I did not finish (DNF) Stones From the River. This is the first DNF I’ve had since starting my blog, back in July 2015.

Stones From the River was my book club’s selection this past month, and we met last week to discuss the book. Out of the 7 members of our club, 3 of us hadn’t finished the book by the time we met. It’s a tough read involving very serious content and it’s also a long read at over 500 pages long.

Since it was a DNF for me, I’ll break down my thoughts bullet-style this time!

The Bad – Why I Stopped Reading:

  • Subject Matter. I stopped reading around the 125-page mark, and by this time there was mention of the main character being sexually assaulted, another character repeatedly raped, and a kitten was brutally killed by a nasty piece of work. As I had just had to deal with putting my own 12-year-old cat down, and I hadn’t even gotten to the WWII parts of the book yet, Stones From the River was just too heavy of a book for me to read at this point. This is essentially the main reason I stopped reading. I just personally couldn’t handle it.
  • Length. My copy of the book was 525 pages long. As I unfortunately waited too long to start the book for book club (due to travelling), I didn’t really have the time to devote to this book. This is not a book that you can skim. Every word, every sentence has weight and importance to it, and racing through a book like this felt disrespectful to me.
  • Similarity to Other WWII Books. Stones From the River just did not feel any different to me than other WWII books that I have read. I could sense what I was going to be reading during the WWII sections, and I just didn’t see anything different said here, so opted to read other books that I was behind on.

The Good – Why I May Attempt This Book Again:

  • The Writing. I really enjoyed how Ursula Hegi writes. Many of the sentences were weighty and beautiful, and the story had a great flow.
  • The Character of Trudi. Trudi is the main character, and she was such a complex character that I really do want to read what happens to her. Since I stopped so early in the book, which is basically told chronologically, I think I only got to Trudi being about 8 years old. So, it’s great that Ursula Hegi was able to convey Trudi’s complexity in her early years. I can only imagine her choices and her actions become more complex as the book continues on.
  • The Ending. I’ve read the last 10 or 15 pages of the book, and they are beautifully written, with powerful statements made about WWII and about life. Because of the strength of these final pages, I’m interested to see how characters get there, and what happens.

 My book club’s discussion of the book was interesting. But I confess, I didn’t get a whole lot out of it, this is probably because I didn’t finish the book. I also wasn’t convinced to pick the book up again anytime soon. I think we were all a bit distracted due to our meeting falling on the same night as game seven of the World Series.

It took courage for the few, who would preserve the texture of the truth, not to let its fibers slip beneath the web of silence and collusion which people—often with the best of intentions—spun to sustain and protect one another.

The next selection for my book club is the bestseller Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. We usually take a break over the holidays, and so we won’t meet again until February. I’ll probably wait until late January to start on Before the Fall.

 Bottom Line: Couldn’t finish it. Maybe I’ll try again one day.

 Have you read Before the Fall? Have you read Stones From the River? Should I give it another shot?

Links to Stones From the River on Amazon and Goodreads

Links to Before the Fall on Amazon and Goodreads

Other WWII books that I recommend:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – This book is narrated by Death and is set in WWII Germany. Beautiful and haunting, this seems to have very similar themes and is an easier (and shorter) read. Links on Amazon and Goodreads
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – This one is set in France, and details the relationship between two sisters. One sister is active in the Resistance, and the other sister stays at home while her husband is away at war, and a Nazi soldier ends up living in her home. Read my review here and links to The Nightingale on Amazon and Goodreads
  • A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell – My favorite WWII historical fiction novel. Set in Italy, this story has many characters and touches on many different aspects of WWII (fighting in Africa, the rise of Communism, how WWII affected Italy).  Links on Amazon and   Goodreads

12 thoughts on “Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi: DNF and Discussion

  1. I wish I hadn’t read it, as I found it profoundly depressing. But somehow I couldn’t put it down even knowing what had to be coming (though I was often surprised by unexpected awfulness like the cat event you mention).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, what I read of it was very depressing, and was just too intense for me right now. The WWII parts must’ve been awful to read about.
      But the writing was really wonderful, and perhaps I’ll pick it up again one day. I am interested to see what happens and how characters get to the end!


      1. Oh, I’m so glad you know about it now. It was one I grew up reading, and got me into Lois Lowry, which in turn got me into The Giver. Love that series.
        And I haven’t read BITSP, but I saw the movie, and it was brilliant!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I haven’t read any Lois Lowry yet – some day I will!
          The movie & book for BITSP are very similar – one of the few movie adaptations that got it right (if I remember correctly).


  2. One of the first books I read for Grab the Lapels was sent to me by an author published through a small press–just the kind of people I want to read and discuss, the very reason I started GTL. However, the book was so graphic and full of rape and incest and abuse that I really wanted to stop reading every second of the way. I still remember one part so vividly, which is weird for me because I typically forget books’ details right after I read them: the majorly traumatized main character was sitting naked on the floor, rocking, sucking on her thumb while her other hand was crammed into her vagina.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yikes! that sounds like a terribly traumatic book. What I find interesting is why some authors decide to describe all the graphic details while other authors can get a similar emotional response without giving any details, or very few details.
      In this book I mention here, Stone From the River, there was just too much of that graphic detail that I didn’t want to fixate on. And we as readers do end up fixating on certain horrific images, like the one you mention here, and the cat killing one I mentioned above, and then that is what gets stuck in our heads instead of the overall message of the book.
      I think authors can sometimes be so obsessed almost with writing something “realistic” that they put too much detail in.

      Liked by 1 person

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