The fourth novel in the Burgdorf Cycle.
Though more than 15 years have passed since Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River captivated critics and readers alike, it retains its popularity, is on academic reading lists, and continues to be adopted by book groups.
Also set in Burgdorf, Germany, Hegi's Children and Fire tells the story of a single day that will forever transform the lives of the townspeople. At the core of this remarkable novel is the question of how one teacher - gifted and joyful, passionate and inventive - can become seduced by propaganda during the early months of Hitler's regime and encourage her 10-year-old students to join the Hitler-Jugend with its hikes and songs and bonfires. Membership, she believes, will be a step toward better schools, better apprenticeships.
How can a woman we admire choose a direction we don't admire? So much has changed for the teacher, Thekla Jansen, and the people of Burgdorf in the year since the parliament building burned. Thekla's lover, Emil Hesping, is sure the Nazis did it to frame the communists. But Thekla believes what she hears on the radio, that the communists set the fire, and she's willing to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each silent agreement chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it.
Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experiences of individual characters: Thekla's mother, who works as a housekeeper for a Jewish family; her employers, Michel and Ilse Abramowitz; Thekla's mentally ill father; Trudi Montag and her father, Leo Montag; Frulein Siderova, midwife to the dying; and the students who adore their young teacher. As Ursula Hegi writes along that edge where sorrow and bliss meet, she shows us how one society - educated, cultural, compassionate - can slip into a reality thats fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear, how a surge of national unity can be manipulated into the dehumanization of a perceived enemy and the justification of torture and murder.
Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi's position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.
©2011 Ursula Hegi (P)2011 Tantor
"This novel is a lyrically written, emotionally powerful portrayal of a brilliant teacher battling the tragic effects of one man's hubris that shattered not only a town but the entire world." (Library Journal)
The publisher's summary more than adequately explains the setting of the novel. I simply want to recommend this novel and its narration, done by the author herself. It is warm, intimate, and deliberate. The German accent is not difficult, but rather gives a flavor to the reading that enhances the experience of listening. As a teacher, I found the relationship of the protagonist to her students to be remarkably insightful. The canvas of the novel is brush-stroked with the complexities of human relationships, whether it be parents to children, one teacher to another, among the villagers, or among the children themselves, and the author explores the ambiguous question of when compromise is a virtuous sacrifice, and when it becomes a moral failing. We see this village through a mist of melancholy, as we know what is around the corner for these schoolboys with the rise of Nazism, and yet the experience of listening to this book is ultimately affirming of the preciousness of human life and relationships, at the same time it gives an appreciation for the precariousness of identity and belonging.
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