Books by Ursula Hegi

Released: May 1, 2011

"A thoughtful, sidelong approach to the worst moment in Germany's history that invites us to understand how decent people come to collaborate with evil."
Hegi (The Worst Thing I've Done, 2007, etc.) probes the moral dilemmas facing ordinary Germans in the early days of Hitler's Third Reich. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 2, 2007

"Extremely readable, but thoroughly unpleasant."
Grim, gripping fiction from Hegi (Sacred Time, 2003, etc.) about childhood friends whose triangular relationship goes horribly wrong. Read full book review >
SACRED TIME by Ursula Hegi
Released: Dec. 2, 2003

"Lacking coherent plot development and a single compelling protagonist, Hegi's latest reads disconcertingly like snippets from a multigenerational saga."
The German-born author breaks new ethnic ground to little effect in her tale of a child's death haunting two generations of Italian-Americans in the Bronx. Read full book review >
TRUDI & PIA by Ursula Hegi
Released: March 1, 2003

Excerpts taken nearly verbatim from Hegi's adult novel, Stones from the River (1994), form a surprisingly cohesive story for children about Trudi, a dwarf girl, who comes to accept herself after meeting a dwarf woman, Pia, at the circus. Pia's not in the circus because she's a dwarf; rather, she's an animal tamer. Upon meeting the glamorous, self-confident Pia, Trudi realizes she has it within her power to define normal; she vows to get furniture that will fit her proportions once she sits in the short-legged chairs in Pia's trailer. Pia encourages her to speak softly and not always look up, so others will have to bend down to hear her; Pia also tells Trudi that she must find a way to find her place in her own town, rather than run away with Pia and the circus. Potter's (The Year I Didn't Go to School, 2002, etc.) colorful gouache illustrations span the realms of reality and the imagination; it's heartbreaking to see Trudi in real life trying to stretch her limbs by hanging from doorframes or limit the growth of her head by tying scarves around it. But it's comforting to see what Trudi can now picture: the fantasy island of dwarves where there are no "tall" people, as well as the hundreds of dwarves Pia says she has met worldwide. Hegi has done a remarkable job in cleanly distilling this child-friendly nugget from her wonderfully complex adult examination of a small German town in the years leading up to and during WWII; many of its themes are fascinating, but this one is particularly appropriate for adaptation into a picture book, especially one with illustrations as touching as these. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"A vivid imagination and luminous writing compensate for too-easy epiphanies."
From acclaimed novelist Hegi (The Vision of Emma Blau, 2000, etc.), 11 short stories: finely wrought fables with transcendent resolutions rather than the usual open-ended contemporary slices of life. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2000

Companion novel to Hegi's Oprah-anointed Stones from the River (1994, etc.): an ambitious, multigenerational story about identity, fate, and the dark side of seemingly benign visions that dutifully plods through the years, detailing as it goes along the schematic lives of the Blau family held hostage to the Wasserburg, a once grand apartment building. Thirteen-year-old Stefan Blau runs away from Germany in 1894 and winds up in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. There, he opens a restaurant and dreams of building a splendid apartment house on the lake shore (Wasserburg means —water fortress—). The place is built, but Stefan's first and second wives die in childbirth, leaving him visionary Greta and moody Tobias to rear. Stefan decides to send for his old friend Helene; she will be wife number three and raise his children, though he is determined to have no more. Angered by being used, Helene tricks Stefan into impregnating her and thereby produces Robert. By the 1950s, the Wasserburg is famous for its splendor, filled with a colorful assortment of people as well as Blau family members, and seemingly destined to last forever. But of course it won't and, for plot purposes, can't. From childhood on, Emma Blau, Robert's daughter, has felt she was —the center of the house," holding it together—an impression that leads her to deceive her family, defraud her brother, have a futile affair, and bear an illegitimate son while she struggles to save the building from its inevitable ruin as money runs out and the structure deteriorates. She (unconvincingly) comes to her senses on the last page of a dull, lifeless tale whose characters are as much in thrall to the plot as the Blaus are to the Wasserburg. Hegi seems to be going through the motions here, aspiring to profundity no doubt but achieving only a tired gothic reprise of hubris and folly. Read full book review >
Released: July 2, 1997

Americans of German birth, children of the war and immediate postwar era, reflect on the experience and meaning of their split identity. German-born novelist Hegi (Salt Dancers, 1995, etc.), who has herself wrestled with the meaning of her German identity, interviewed 15 fellow immigrants. All were born in Germany between 1939 and 1946. Some came to America as children, some came as late as the 1960s. The central issue, of course, is whether, or in what way, or to what degree this post-Auschwitz generation deals with German war guilt. Surprisingly, these people recognize in themselves what most people take for granted about Germans: that they are orderly, hardworking, sometimes cold, but above all efficient. ``I did well in seminary,'' says one, ``because I'm a German. You do well. You make the trains run on time.'' Some see these features as virtues, some see them as impediments to be overcome, but in the end these character traits set them apart from other Americans. Authoritarian, harsh parents are a motif among Hegi's interlocutors, as is a strong feeling of alienation and resentment among the children. They feel a natural affection toward their parents and elders (though not always), yet remain in a state of shock (again, not always) over the deeds of that generation. In general, any kind of talk about the Holocaust was forbidden in these homes on both sides of the Atlantic. Most learn about the Holocaust outside the home and are troubled by complex feelings of shame. It is the habit of silence about these feelings and about history that Hegi aims to shatter. She gathered her material in interviews but has rewritten the conversations as monologues. Her ventriloquist act works well, at least insofar as each of the voices is highly individual. A somber, joyless book that does not lay claim to any catharsis. These personal narratives leave the impression of a ``tremendous sense of loss'' that is permanently yoked to moral bewilderment. Read full book review >
SALT DANCERS by Ursula Hegi
Released: Aug. 1, 1995

A disappointing successor to Hegi's panoramic PEN/Faulkner nominee, Stones from the River (1994), revisiting that overworked world of troubled childhoods recalled years later by still-obsessed adults. When Julia Ives, a successful, single, 41-year-old architect, finds out she is pregnant, she decides to go home to Spokane, a place she left 23 years ago. ``I was afraid I'd mess up my child's life if I didn't sort out before her birth why things had gone so terribly wrong with my family,'' she says, then proceeds to alternate accounts of her present visit with memories of the past in an attempt to do just that. When Julia was four, her father taught her ``the salt dance''a ``dance'' in which you leave everything you fear or no longer want behind a line of salt. Later, Julia has plenty to leave behind: Her father begins to drink, her mother stays out late, quarrels and domestic violence erupt. When her mother suddenly disappears (runs off, in fact, with another man), Dad tries hard to be a good parent, but soon begins drinking again and even beats Julia. At 18, then, determined to start life anew, she moves East and later marries Andreas, an Austrian ski instructor. The marriage ends when she refuses to have children, but later there's ``an absurd yearning for a baby''; when Coop, her current lover, makes her pregnant, she decides to go ahead. Now, as Julia accompanies her father to the family's lakeside cottage and visits with her brother Travis, friends, and relatives, old ghosts are laid to rest. The planned confrontation with Dad is disappointing, but a long-sought meeting with her mother provides some healing insights, as well as memories of ``the good father whose memory I had killed in order to survive.'' Ready now to be a mother and a daughter, Julia can return home. Stale, schematic, and overwrought. Read full book review >
Released: March 7, 1994

Life in small-town Germany (1915-52) as chronicled by Trudi, a dwarf with her own agenda—courtesy of the German-born Hegi (Floating in My Mother's Palm, 1990, etc.) Trudi, whose birth drove her beautiful mother into madness and early death, carries a heavy burden. Her mother's madness was caused not by horror at Trudi's appearance but from guilt: while her husband was away fighting in WW I, she—pregnant—had an affair with his best friend. Trudi, then, a victim of guilt and madness, is an obvious metaphor for Germany—a witness for the prosecution, ``an underground messenger safeguarding her stories.'' Over the years she watches, listens, and slyly trades secrets for other secrets to add to her arsenal of information about the town. She, too, has allowed herself to be consumed by vengeance and hatred. Taunted and sexually assaulted as a young girl by four local boys, she had wished them ill, plotted their destruction, and now, when they all suffer, she begins to understand the corrosive power of hatred. Meanwhile, the town itself is a microcosm of German history as Trudi records its response to the economically distressed 1920's, the rise of Hitler, the growing anti-Semitism, and the postwar years when everyone wants to forget or deny their Nazi past. A slew of characters flesh out these events: courageous Frau Eberhart, whose Nazi son betrays her; Leon Montag, Trudi's wise and brave father; her lover Max, who is killed in the Dresden bombing; and friend Ingrid, who, obsessed by sexual guilt, commits suicide. Trudi, with her own share of sorrows and joys, survives to tell her story—all about ``what to enhance and what to relinquish. And what to embrace.'' Small-town life and the familiar Third Reich horrors are vividly evoked, but Trudi herself is more problematical. Trying to be too much—including a female alter ego for Gunter Grass's dwarf drummer—she is never quite in focus or really credible. Read full book review >