Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

A Read for our Times: Stones from the River

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jul• 18•19

After trump’s latest hate rally and cries of “send her back” might I offer a lesson from history in the form of a beautiful novel, Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi? It’s the story of the rise of Hitler and how the German people were pulled into his madness and xenophobia. How easy it was to sway them, brainwash them, and demonize Jews and other minorities and outsiders.

It’s told from the viewpoint of Trudi  Montag, a dwarf, and the story begins in 1915 when she’s a girl. When you create a fictional story at least one character needs to be vulnerable—it’s why a child’s kidnapping makes such a horrifying, nail-biting tale, for example. We can all relate to feelings of vulnerability because we’ve all been children, dependent on adults for survival. In Hitler’s Germany only able-bodied Aryan types were seen as desirables and people with differences could be sent to work camps, murdered at whim, or be subject to brutal medical research.

Here is the opening:

As a child Trudi Montag thought everyone knew what went on inside others. That was  before she understood the power of being different. The agony of being different. And the sin of ranting against an infective God. But before that–years and years before that–she prayed to grow. Every night she fell asleep with the prayer that, while she slept, her body would stretch itself, grow to the size of other girls her age in Burgdorf–not even the taller ones like Eva Rosen, who would become her best friend in school for awhile–but into a body with normal-length arms and legs and a small, well-shaped head. To help God along Trudi would hang from door frames by her fingers until they were numb, convinced she could feel her bones lengthening; many nights she’d tie her mother’s silk scarves around her head–one encircling her forehead, one knotted beneath her chin–to keep her head from expanding.

How she prayed. And every morning when her arms were still stubby, and her feet wouldn’t reach the floor as she’d swing them from her mattress, she’d tell herself she hadn’t prayed hard enough or it wasn’t the right time yet so she’d keep praying….  

Keep writing, keep reading, stand for justice


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