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.