of Stones From The River
I came to this country as an 18-year old," Hegi reflects, "I found
that Americans of my generation knew more about the Holocaust than
I did. When I was growing up, you could not ask about it; it was
absolutely taboo. We grew up with the silence." For this reason,
when people asked Ursula Hegi where she was from, she used to wish
she could answer Norway or Holland. Hegi soon discovered that it
was impossible to leave behind one's origins. "The older I got,
the more I realized that I am inescapably encumbered with the heritage
of my country's history."
her first two books, Intrusions, and Unlearned Pleasures
and Other Stories, were set in the U.S., it was with her third
book, Floating in My Mother's Palm, that Hegi took the important
step of exploring her conflict over her cultural identity. As she
explains: "My own acute discomfort at being German is very much
at the core of my writing."
Floating in My Mother's Palm, Hegi first introduces readers
to the inhabitants of Burgdorf, a fictional German town loosely
based on her hometown during the 1950s. With her "prequel," Stones
from the River, Hegi extends her portrayal of Burgdorf's characters,
and the exploration of her own heritage, by including the several
decades preceding World War II and its immediate aftermath.
from the River is Hegi's attempt to understand the silence of
towns throughout Germany that tolerated persecution of Jews during
the war and enabled a community to quiet its conscience once the
truths of the Holocaust were revealed. Hegi immersed herself in
historical material on the Holocaust to write the book. "It was
an important part of my journey, of integrating the past within
myself." She also asked to interview her aged godmother about the
period, who, to her surprise, complied. Hegi is pleased that Stones
from the River will be published in Germany next year.
She is currently at work on another Burgdorf-based novel, The
Passion of Emma Blau, and a nonfiction work, Tearing the
Silence: On Being German in America.
The winner of numerous honors and awards, including an NEA fellowship
and five PEN syndicated fiction awards, Hegi is an Associate Professor
at Eastern Washington University where she teaches creative writing
and contemporary literature. She lives near Spokane, Washington
with her partner Gordon Gagliano and has two sons, ages 21 and 24.