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Stones from the River

I finished Stones from the River last night, and I loved it. It followed a German woman from her birth, immediately after WWI, through adulthood, after WWII. She's a storyteller, so there are many stories within the main story, but they're short, so I didn't have any trouble keeping track of what was going on.

The book made me think about a lot of things that had never crossed my mind, like what it was like for the Germans when their soldiers returned after WWII, after everyone had heard about the atrocities that had been committed. How do you live with those men and treat them as if everything is the same?

Also, the German women and children (and old men) were terribly afraid when the Americans showed up. They hid in cellars and hoped they wouldn't be killed, because they'd heard frightening things about the American soldiers. It was strange when I got to that part of the book, because the people in the book had been suffering so much during the war that I couldn't help but automatically think of the Americans -- us -- as saviors, but of course it wasn't like that for the Germans. Except those in camps, of course, but the camps really don't play a large part in the book, because it's set in a small town where the camps are just vague rumors, places where their Jewish and/or outspoken neighbors disappear to and don't return, but which the people really don't understand.

After WWII, there was a lot of revisionist history among the Germans -- not the narrator, but those around her -- to make themselves seem less complicit in what had happened, less guilty in their silence while crimes were being committed. How else could they live with it, and live with their men who had been in the war?

So I loved the book, and it made me cry several times. It's one of those books that makes me not want to start another book immediately afterward, because I want this one to settle in my memory and in my thoughts.

I'll probably start another book (The Liars' Club, which is nice and short) right away, though, to keep my momentum going. I've been reading a lot (compared to the past few years, anyway) lately, and I want to keep it up. Encourage the habit.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2006 09:53 pm (UTC)
It's amazing, learning about the effects of the war here in Germany. I mean, you have to realize how very many men did _not_ come back from the war. You can go into a small village where nearly every single man between 16 and 70 died. They have books with just page after page of dead soldiers from each village.

And the poverty was crippling. They have a saying that after the war, you could go to buy a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow full of money. You'd come out of the bakery to find that they'd stolen your wheelbarrow, but the pile of money was left behind. You couldn't buy what you needed. The farmers were the lucky ones, because they could at least grow some of what they needed.

Also, the vast majority of soldiers were not complicit in atrocities.

What happened in the wake of the Russian advancement after the war ended was also atrocious. The parts of Germany that were occupied by Americans were definitely the lucky ones.

I have an uncle by marriage who, as a young boy, went with a friend to look at some army vehicles nearby. When they got back to their village - every single person was gone, including their own parents. The German army had rolled in, because the Russian army was on its way, and evacuated them within an hour. At 7 years old, he had to walk hundreds of miles to get to Bavaria. His friend died along the way, and he nearly did, too, from eating green potatoes. A woman he met saved him by feeding him coal from her fire.

When he got into Bavaria, he found his father, but it took more than a year to find his mother and brother again.

Can you imagine? It's no wonder that Germany thinks the War on Terror was started a bit frivolously.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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