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Children and Fire

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The fourth novel in Ursula Hegi’s acclaimed Burgdorf cycle is “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” (Kirkus Reviews). Children and Fire tells the story of one day that will forever transform the lives of the people in Burgdorf, Germany, the fictitious village b The fourth novel in Ursula Hegi’s acclaimed Burgdorf cycle is “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” (Kirkus Reviews). Children and Fire tells the story of one day that will forever transform the lives of the people in Burgdorf, Germany, the fictitious village by the river in Ursula Hegi’s bestselling novels. February 27, 1934—the first anniversary of the burning of Reichstag, the Parliament building in Berlin. Thekla Jansen, a gifted young teacher, loves her students and tries to protect them from the chaos beyond their village. Believing the Nazis’ new regime will not last forever, Thekla begins to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each compromise chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it. Ursula Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experience of Thekla, her students, and the townspeople as she writes along the edge where sorrow and bliss meet, and shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear. Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi’s position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.


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The fourth novel in Ursula Hegi’s acclaimed Burgdorf cycle is “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” (Kirkus Reviews). Children and Fire tells the story of one day that will forever transform the lives of the people in Burgdorf, Germany, the fictitious village b The fourth novel in Ursula Hegi’s acclaimed Burgdorf cycle is “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” (Kirkus Reviews). Children and Fire tells the story of one day that will forever transform the lives of the people in Burgdorf, Germany, the fictitious village by the river in Ursula Hegi’s bestselling novels. February 27, 1934—the first anniversary of the burning of Reichstag, the Parliament building in Berlin. Thekla Jansen, a gifted young teacher, loves her students and tries to protect them from the chaos beyond their village. Believing the Nazis’ new regime will not last forever, Thekla begins to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each compromise chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it. Ursula Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experience of Thekla, her students, and the townspeople as she writes along the edge where sorrow and bliss meet, and shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear. Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi’s position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.

30 review for Children and Fire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Susan Katz

    This book has inspired me to immediately seek out the rest of Hegi's Burgdorf cycle. I'd read and loved Stones from the River, and when I read a review of this book set in the same small German village in the first half of the twentieth century, a companion book to Stones, I got hold of it immediately. Characters who in the first book were minor here spring to full life. Wilhelm Jansen, the shell-shocked veteran, reveals here his earlier history, his marriage to a pregnant woman and the fate of This book has inspired me to immediately seek out the rest of Hegi's Burgdorf cycle. I'd read and loved Stones from the River, and when I read a review of this book set in the same small German village in the first half of the twentieth century, a companion book to Stones, I got hold of it immediately. Characters who in the first book were minor here spring to full life. Wilhelm Jansen, the shell-shocked veteran, reveals here his earlier history, his marriage to a pregnant woman and the fate of their child, who becomes the central character in this book. Trudi Montag, the dwarf protagonist of Stones, is here merely an occasional background figure, though an interesting one to a reader who already knows her story and can see here, through Thekla Jansen, how Trudi is viewed by townspeople. It also presents a more complete portrayal of Bruno Stosick, the boy who committed suicide in Stones because he wasn't allowed to join the Hitler-Jugend. Particularly fascinating to me was the story of Ilse and Michel Abramowitz who are seen here from a different and deeper perspective than Trudi's. A wonderful, wonderfully written account of what happens when propaganda is substituted for truth, and fear for reason, an issue Americans should certainly be thinking about in our own current political climate.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fergie

    My only complaint with this book (if it can be called that) was that I didn't want the book to end. It left me craving to know what happened next. Ursula Hegi has earned her place as my favorite modern day writer. I've read all of her novels and have yet to be disappointed. In my opinion, Stones From The River (the first book of this series) is one of the greatest novels ever written. No one weaves a story like Hegi and pulls the reader into the past, making the stories relevant and timely while My only complaint with this book (if it can be called that) was that I didn't want the book to end. It left me craving to know what happened next. Ursula Hegi has earned her place as my favorite modern day writer. I've read all of her novels and have yet to be disappointed. In my opinion, Stones From The River (the first book of this series) is one of the greatest novels ever written. No one weaves a story like Hegi and pulls the reader into the past, making the stories relevant and timely while evoking imaginative heights of a great novel. This is the fourth novel in Hegi’s Burgdorf series, but true to Hegi's talent, she creates a unique story which is free to stand on its own. Children and Fire takes place over the span of a single day, interspersed with occurrences from the past. Hegi is no Jodi Picoult (thank God). She doesn't churn out a book a month, but when she does write, it is a masterful creation and telling worthy of the reader's patience. As one of her biggest fans, Children And Fire has left me excitingly anticipating Hegi’s next book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    J.Elle

    Oh, Ursula Hegi, I so want to like your books, but, for some reason, I just can’t. You are firmly in the two star category for me: Stones from the River. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m lacking in some way? NAH. :) I think my real opinion is that everything is just too drawn out and too much time is spent on everything, as if the premise of the writing is, “why explain something in a paragraph when I can turn it into a whole chapter?” And people, therein lies one of the main reasons I read so much youn Oh, Ursula Hegi, I so want to like your books, but, for some reason, I just can’t. You are firmly in the two star category for me: Stones from the River. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m lacking in some way? NAH. :) I think my real opinion is that everything is just too drawn out and too much time is spent on everything, as if the premise of the writing is, “why explain something in a paragraph when I can turn it into a whole chapter?” And people, therein lies one of the main reasons I read so much young adult fiction. I am busy. I work full-time. I have a husband. I have a toddler. I cook most of our meals. I try to bake the majority of our bread. I have a cat that never stops meowing. I have things to do and I cannot waste, yes, I wrote WASTE, my time on gratuitous descriptions of everything, especially when I am not overly in love with the book anyway. Young adult fiction? So fast and easy and if it’s lame, (shrug), it’s 185 pages. I’m done reading it in two hours. But Ursula Hegi, I slogged through this for four days, an unheard of amount of time for me and then, I admit to skimming the last 20% of the book. I had a life I needed to get back to. And now I’m laughing at myself. You’re probably going, “you just wrote a huge paragraph overly describing why you don’t love this book without even mentioning what the book was about. You are just like Ursula Hegi.” And I would argue that my goodreads reviews have never been chosen for Oprah’s booklist and so, are held to a much lower standard. This book centers on the life of Thekla Jahnsen, a teacher to a class of 10 year old boys. It’s set in 1934, a year after the burning of the Reichstag and the book jacket led me to believe it would be about how one woman (Thekla) could become so seduced by the Hitler propaganda that she would encourage her class of boys to join the movement. Instead, I got a warbling, timeline-jumping story about Thekla’s parentage which frankly ended up being so predictable that it caused the aforementioned skimming. And thus, I concluded my final attempt with Ms. Hegi’s writing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    With the luxury of time, we look back and ask ourselves: how did so many educated and cultured people become manipulated by a madman – Hitler—to justify torture and genocide? The answers we come up with are all too often dismissive and simplistic – a good vs. evil dichotomy. In reality, the answer is far more nuanced, and Ursula Hegi captures how a surge of national unity goes so very wrong and how the absence of complexity or doubt can lead even good people astray. Set in Burgdorf, Germany, a tea With the luxury of time, we look back and ask ourselves: how did so many educated and cultured people become manipulated by a madman – Hitler—to justify torture and genocide? The answers we come up with are all too often dismissive and simplistic – a good vs. evil dichotomy. In reality, the answer is far more nuanced, and Ursula Hegi captures how a surge of national unity goes so very wrong and how the absence of complexity or doubt can lead even good people astray. Set in Burgdorf, Germany, a teacher, Thekla Jansen, is entrusted with teaching a classroom of boys the year after the parliament building is burned. Like so many, she is not enamoured of Hitler and believes that his time will be limited and things will soon go back to normal. She even rationalizes that her charges may benefit from joining the Hitler-Jugend, with its unity and songs and bonfires. As books get burned and the country becomes enraptured over a new savior, Thekla teaches a Schiller poem, about a young diver’s courage and death. But the last stanza – the one that focuses on his hubris, as the young diver steps toward the mad king and leaps into the rough waters, is left out. For now, she thinks, “let them believe that the young page gets to keep the golden cup. Let them believe he gets the princess and the fairy-tale ending…” The problem is, it’s difficult to separate propaganda from truth and, as Thekla discovers “being true to yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you are truthful…After all, she has felt that reverence as child in church, the emotional pitch that proves your transformation. Easy enough to use that reverence in politics.” Thekla’s awakening is gradual as she begins to realize that individual freedom is different from national freedom, and that it’s become too easy to rationalize giving up those freedoms to live. In this, Children and Fire is a cautionary tale, not only to understand the Hitler era but for our times. I wanted to award this book its fifth star except for a few flaws. The author tries too hard – in my opinion – to weave in other books of the Burgdorf Cycle, most notably Stones from the River; it doesn’t quite feel organic. More troubling, she relies on a rather tired plot device about parentage to demonstrate how vulnerable we all are. Despite these flaws, this is a worthy, thoughtful, and important book that dares to ask the question: “What would YOU do in Thekla’s place?” Most of us, I’m afraid, would come up wanting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    NO SPOILERS!!! Through Chapter Two and a little more: Yesterday I finished the marvellous memoir A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan by Netofer Pazira. I gave it five stars, but having just finished a memoir, I wanted a novel. But which? I had read all of the books loaded into my Kindle! Since I am so picky about how an author writes, I checked my GR list of books that are available on Kindle, deciding to sample a few until I found one I could not put down. I found it - Ursula Hegi' NO SPOILERS!!! Through Chapter Two and a little more: Yesterday I finished the marvellous memoir A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan by Netofer Pazira. I gave it five stars, but having just finished a memoir, I wanted a novel. But which? I had read all of the books loaded into my Kindle! Since I am so picky about how an author writes, I checked my GR list of books that are available on Kindle, deciding to sample a few until I found one I could not put down. I found it - Ursula Hegi's new historical fiction entitled Children and Fire. It portrays a wonderful teacher, a teacher of 10-year-old boys in a Catholic school, who is convinced that her kids should join Hitler-Jugend! How are we going to feel about a woman who is a marvellous teacher but is misguided?! How has she been fooled, and how did the German people get fooled by Hitler? It takes place on one day – February 27, 1934, one year after the burning of the Reichtag in Berlin. This was Shrove Monday, the end of the festivities before Lent. Every student and even the teacher remember exactly what they were doing when they heard of the burning. The shock they felt, and the fear that Hitler induced in them, this fear and hatred for the Communists, is vividly portrayed. We know now that the Communist/anarchist Van der Lubbe was not responsible, but this was not known then. Hitler accused the Communists to create fear and hatred. He did it for his own purposes. A year later the children were still scared that the Communists might come and burn their school, their homes, their…..Hitler was an adept manipulator of fear. What I immediately noticed in reading just a few chapters of the sample was that the writing is intelligent, compassionate and humorous. Even serious topics can be humorous. Bruno's father exclaims that Hitler should be hung up by his balls, or maybe just one, if rumours are correct! I read samples from other books about us adults…… Really, they were so depressing - married couples having affairs, discrimination against blacks, rape and whatnot. I am not saying this book about the build up to the Second World War is light reading, but the difference is that some of the people portrayed, the school children and their teacher Thekla are good people, perhaps misguided and confused by events, but their hearts are in the right place. I really cannot take a book filled with depravity and coarseness when no characters make any effort to at least try and be good people. I don't mind mistakes, but I dislike reading about people who are not even attempting to be good or moral or kind. Such is just too dam depressing! And I love Thekla's view on premarital sex and sensuality. Both the belief that God created the earth in six days and the sin of pre-marital sex could be thrown out together with the dirty dishwater! I simply adore Ursula Hegi's ability to string together words in an amusing, compassionate and intelligent manner. One more thing - Thekla is one of those teachers that stands out above all the rest. We all look back at our years at school and if we have been lucky we will remember one teacher, maybe two, that meant the world to us. She teachers her students a given subject right when that topic captures their interest. On the curriculum she should be teaching "Lent", but what does she teach? Geography! Why? Well, because the students want to know where Berlin is. How close is it to their homes? How can you teach about the importance of giving up more food when poverty is strangling them? Acquaint yourself with this teacher: She loves them all: the boys with crossed eyes and crooked teeth; the brainy boys and the beautiful boys; the boys from good families and the boys with "Rotznasen" – runny noses -who've been born into families with something as basic as wiping your nose is not done for you when you're little, and you never learn how to do it for yourself. Like the Führer. This is where he came from, and the uniform can't cover that. His skin may be clean and dry, but he'll always have "Rotznase". It's a way of living, a way of having been brought into life. (7%) 15% through the book: When I read a good book, I want to share my thoughts with others. I have noted that when I really like a book my reviews tend to get longer and longer. Gundula, here is a message just for you. This book discusses legends and myths and poetry and famous German authors. I just learned of Friedrich von Schiller who wrote "Der Taucher" – "The Diver". You will learn why the children decided to change the name of their classroom frog from Copernicus to Icarus. And poetry hasn't spoken to me before?! Who is Fraulein Siderova? I know she was the boys' teacher before Thekla, but why is she no longer the teacher. It was her that started the routine of teaching the children one poem every week. They were not ordered to memorize the stanzas. Oh no! She aroused the children's curiosity so they wanted to recite the poem, so they each felt compelled to seek the meaning of the poem for themselves. Hegi pushes her readers just as Fräulein Siderova and Thekla pushed their students, by arousing our curiosity to seek out the answers. Here follows another example: But the midwife, Lotte Jansen, knew there was no God. Of course, she kept this secret from the nuns who employed her to bring life into the world. At the St. Margaret Home, she was known for her kindness and skilful hands, but most of all because not one single death happened on her watch. It was said that her great tragedy protected anyone she touched because death would be embarrassed to come near her again. In the dining room of the Home hung a diptych of St. Margaret. In the first panel, the patron saint of pregnant women was swallowed by a dragon. Actually, it was the devil disguised as a dragon – by divine preordination, so it was said – St. Margaret clutched her book-size cross as she was being sucked down the tunnel of the dragon's throat. The edge of her cross scraped and pierced the lining of the dragon's throat, causing his engorged body to contract, a brutal reminder – the midwife thought – to the pregnant Girls of what they had yet to endure. That's why she advised them to sit with their backs to the picture while they ate. (15%) I do not know any than you how this connects to the plot. I only know that this is a flashback to 1899 to the St. Margaret Home on the North Sea. Lotte Jansen, is she related to Thekla Jansen? Questions???? I do know what is painted on the second panel of the diptych so I amon the way to find out how this is related to Thekla, her boys and Burgdorf, Germany. As I page through the table of contents I see that there are many flash backs, these chapters alternating with the events that take place February 27, 1934, i.e. one year after the burning of the Reichtag. OK, I finished the book. Yes, I liked it, but for me three stars feel adequate. There is very good character development. The characters are multidimensional. For a while I thought Thekla was "holier than thou", but then she too fumbled and was brought down to earth. There are many characters. You have Thekla, her mother and father, the nuns, teachers, the students, villagers and friends. You learn to know the characteristics of all of these people. Maybe, a few less would have been better.... The relationships are complicated. You read the book to understand these relationships. One can also choose to read this book for its excellent portrayal of how teaching should be done. However I felt the message got a bit preachy, a bit redundant, a bit too much of a lecture.. On the other hand, the reader is given interesting informations about a wide range of German authors. I think Hegi's Stones from the River was better.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kellie

    Thekla Jansen is a gifted teacher who thinks that Hitler and his Nazis are boorish and not well brought up. At the same time, she wants to believe in Hitler's promises, and hopes that her students can gain advantage from the system he is creating. She tells herself that she is setting her moral courage aside only temporarily, and that it will be there waiting when all the Nazi hysteria inevitably dies down. This naïve hope is completely destroyed, however, when shallowly buried family secrets th Thekla Jansen is a gifted teacher who thinks that Hitler and his Nazis are boorish and not well brought up. At the same time, she wants to believe in Hitler's promises, and hopes that her students can gain advantage from the system he is creating. She tells herself that she is setting her moral courage aside only temporarily, and that it will be there waiting when all the Nazi hysteria inevitably dies down. This naïve hope is completely destroyed, however, when shallowly buried family secrets threaten to surface. This novel explores the process by which seemingly decent people either accommodate themselves to evil or resist it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This is my first experience with this author and it was incredible. She paints pictures with her words, one brush stroke at a time. Concisely and clearly, she reveals the conflict and the shocking resolution, which - as a reader, you know that shortly after this day World War II will begin. The book is many stories twisting together and introducing different characters. The main protagonist is Thekla, a German teacher who has finally secured a position in a Catholic school. The day is in 1934. Th This is my first experience with this author and it was incredible. She paints pictures with her words, one brush stroke at a time. Concisely and clearly, she reveals the conflict and the shocking resolution, which - as a reader, you know that shortly after this day World War II will begin. The book is many stories twisting together and introducing different characters. The main protagonist is Thekla, a German teacher who has finally secured a position in a Catholic school. The day is in 1934. Thekla is teaching the boys in her class through example, first hand experience, and redirecting their attention so the children will not tell on each other or turn in their own parents for not being patriotic. Thekla's day progresses while we flash on her memories, her ideas, and her made-up conversation with Sonja Siderova, the converted Christian from Jewish teacher who was put on administrative leave once her Jewishness was uncovered. The book flashes a lot on different times which is not confusing. There are actually 2 distinct times that alternate. The book starts with Thekla teaching her boys then flashes back to 1899 when Thekla was but an illegitimate fetus in her mother's womb at a Catholic home for unwed girls. It is here that we come to understand her mother, her father, and her biological father who plays a part in Thekla's upbringing without her knowing his true role. Foreshadowing is beautifully weaved through the pages as the reader understands that the burning of the Reichstag, one year earlier, is only the beginning of the many fires. The most moving is a quote by Heinrich Heine: "That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also." The book is beautifully written, drawing upon symbolism while Thekla grapples with her stance. She believes she can continue to sit on the fence. She can believe what she chooses and enjoy her moral standing while enforcing the new laws of the land that continue to constrict the freedoms of individuals.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    I listened to this one read by the author. She did a beautiful job, and her voice and accent were so soft and melodious, it really made the words "come to life," though I know that is cliche. I read Stones from the River many years ago for book club, and when I read the review of this book, which takes place in the same town but among different inhabitants, I knew it was a world I wanted to explore again. It is pre-WWII Germany in a small town, which means everyone has secrets and they are all di I listened to this one read by the author. She did a beautiful job, and her voice and accent were so soft and melodious, it really made the words "come to life," though I know that is cliche. I read Stones from the River many years ago for book club, and when I read the review of this book, which takes place in the same town but among different inhabitants, I knew it was a world I wanted to explore again. It is pre-WWII Germany in a small town, which means everyone has secrets and they are all difficult to keep from one's neighbors. The characters are so flawed and melancholy, but there is something about Hegi's writing that draws me in and makes me care so much about them all. Here's my blog entry: Beautifully and emotionally written, Ursula Hegi's Children and Fire examines how good people with honest spirits and valid aspirations could succumb to the propaganda of Hitler's early regime. Set in the same Burgdorf, Germany as Hegi's Stones from the River, Children and Fire follows the intertwining stories of some of the small town's inhabitants as they lead up to a single day and the heartbreaking event that will change them all. Since the burning of the parliament building one year before, teacher Thekla Jansen has slowly been relinquishing her freedoms in the name of better opportunities for her students, and though she hates to admit it, for herself. Through the histories of some of the townspeople first introduced in Stones, we get perspective of the climate of Germany at the time, and the physical and emotional oppression that helped make its people vulnerable to mass fear and manipulation. It isn't necessary to read these books in order, but as companion books, their effect is deepened by experiencing them both.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    In Children and Fire, Hegi revisits the German town that was the setting for her earlier novel, Stones From the River. The era is the early twentieth century, post WWI, pre WWII, as Hitler and the Third Reich are changing the German political and social landscape as they rise to power. Hegi's theme, in both this book and "Stones" is the exploration of how it could have happened. I always wondered how good, kind, ordinary German citizens allowed the rantings of a madman to sway their good sense a In Children and Fire, Hegi revisits the German town that was the setting for her earlier novel, Stones From the River. The era is the early twentieth century, post WWI, pre WWII, as Hitler and the Third Reich are changing the German political and social landscape as they rise to power. Hegi's theme, in both this book and "Stones" is the exploration of how it could have happened. I always wondered how good, kind, ordinary German citizens allowed the rantings of a madman to sway their good sense and over-ride their compassion. Hegi must have wondered that too, as it is a theme she returns to again and again. Children and Fire follows the life of one teacher...Thekla Jansen, a lively, nurturing, intellectual woman who tells herself that every concession that she makes is necessary in the moment- to keep her job, to stay alive, to wait out the madness. As she struggles with daily decisions related to the "new rules", we struggle along with her, asking ourselves "What would I do in that situation"? Ultimately, the question becomes: How many times can one compromise one's values and still be the person that one has always believed oneself to be? Ursula Hegi is a masterful writer and her stories are always beautiful and haunting. If you only read one of her books, choose Stones from the River as I think it's her best, and if you like it, try this one or any of her other novels or short stories. They're all really good!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Ursula Hegi has the talent to put into words emotions I have felt but not understood their roots. Children and Fire is a story within a larger story. The larger story being her novel, Stones from the River. You do not have to read one before the other. The characters from each book intersect and you see them with deeper meaning. Both books take place in a small German Village, Burgdorf. Children and Fire tells the story of a single day in the early months of Hitler’s regime. It’s beautifully wri Ursula Hegi has the talent to put into words emotions I have felt but not understood their roots. Children and Fire is a story within a larger story. The larger story being her novel, Stones from the River. You do not have to read one before the other. The characters from each book intersect and you see them with deeper meaning. Both books take place in a small German Village, Burgdorf. Children and Fire tells the story of a single day in the early months of Hitler’s regime. It’s beautifully written and although it takes place in 1934, the humanity, both good and evil is timeless.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Riveting to reread this book in the fall of 2020. Set in Hegi’s beautifully fictitious village of Burgdorf, Germany in 1934, the town is on edge as the first anniversary of the burning of the Reichstag approaches. The Nazis claim the fire was started by a mentally ill Dutch communist. In 1934, the Dutchman is already dead, but rumors still abound and it feels impossible to know the truth about anything except the fevered split between right and left. Similar to Trump’s 2020, it is very convenien Riveting to reread this book in the fall of 2020. Set in Hegi’s beautifully fictitious village of Burgdorf, Germany in 1934, the town is on edge as the first anniversary of the burning of the Reichstag approaches. The Nazis claim the fire was started by a mentally ill Dutch communist. In 1934, the Dutchman is already dead, but rumors still abound and it feels impossible to know the truth about anything except the fevered split between right and left. Similar to Trump’s 2020, it is very convenient to blame the “enemy” party for the violence, and then to use the violence as a reason to limit freedoms and swallow more control. Picture Trump sweeping the square of protesters to set up the video of his walk to a DC church. Remember him sending in federal agents without name tags to grab people off the streets of Portland. At this writing, setting fire to buildings during protests here in this country is also making us collectively edgy. The result in both 1934 and 2020 is lots of finger pointing and shouts of propaganda: there is a vacuum in local and state leadership which needs to be filled—in our time, apparently by armed militias. It remains to be seen whether the answer in 2021 will be more authoritarianism. Thekla, the protagonist and young teacher of a class of fourth grade boys, is very proud of her intelligence and also her quiet cynicism regarding the Nazi regime. However, she has a difficult time seeing herself (sound familiar to any liberals or progressives out there?). Eventually, she learns about her own Jewish heritage. It may be a stretch to keep making the parallel, but it does echo to some degree the themes in 2020 of reflecting on white supremacy, culpability, and, finally, our universality as human beings.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Mills

    A beautifully written, wenching book set in Germany in the 1930s. Not going to summarize here, just highly recommend it for anyone who likes a good novel.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Paschen

    So you are sick to death of reading about the Holocaust? Please just be quiet and read this book. Oh, but read "Stones from the River" first. Better now? (Page 69)"What the parishioners and the priest didn't know was that the Siderovas distrusted the ritual of confession. They seemed so devout as they knelt in the dim confessional. But all they fed the priest were made-up sins because they suspected all priests disturbed the garden of secrets by tearing at the roots." (Page 165)"Exercising for the F So you are sick to death of reading about the Holocaust? Please just be quiet and read this book. Oh, but read "Stones from the River" first. Better now? (Page 69)"What the parishioners and the priest didn't know was that the Siderovas distrusted the ritual of confession. They seemed so devout as they knelt in the dim confessional. But all they fed the priest were made-up sins because they suspected all priests disturbed the garden of secrets by tearing at the roots." (Page 165)"Exercising for the Fuhrer. Really. Thekla wants to laugh but keeps her face impassive. She can stay outside all of that. But just then she remembers the rally when, just for an instant, she felt part of it. Like touching a flame but getting burned instead and feeling tricked. Though she shook herself free from that spell and returned to who she believed she was, she felt agitated for days. But if she has to she'll tell her students that the Fuhrer wants them to exercise more. If that makes their lives easier while the regime lasts. But bad poetry? Never.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary V

    I was lucky and won CHILDREN AND FIRE: A NOVEL by Ursula Hegi on a Goodreads giveaway. I enjoyed reading it and am passing it on to my daughter. It was a very emotional story about a teacher and her young students in Germany in 1935 at the time of Hitler and the Nazis. The teacher, Theckla, is undergoing uncertainties about her own life (questions about her past, and her beliefs) as well as questions as to how best to teach and protect her class of fourth grade boys. The book focused on the live I was lucky and won CHILDREN AND FIRE: A NOVEL by Ursula Hegi on a Goodreads giveaway. I enjoyed reading it and am passing it on to my daughter. It was a very emotional story about a teacher and her young students in Germany in 1935 at the time of Hitler and the Nazis. The teacher, Theckla, is undergoing uncertainties about her own life (questions about her past, and her beliefs) as well as questions as to how best to teach and protect her class of fourth grade boys. The book focused on the lives of the characters on one select date in time alternated with flash backs to Theckla's life beginning before her birth. It all inter-relates and the reader can see haow Theckla's childhood has forged her into the adult she is now and how it effects everything she does and believes. It is a thought provoking book on all levels.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    This is a must read for any Ursula Hegi fan. Set in Burgdorf, Germany, a popular setting for several of her books, Children and Fire tells the story of a single day that forever transforms the lives of the townspeople. The book explores the reactions of the German citizens to Hitler's rise to power one year following the Reichstag fire. Hegi masterfully weaves past and present events in order to explain the motives of her characters. Although this novel revisits a common place and theme for Hegi This is a must read for any Ursula Hegi fan. Set in Burgdorf, Germany, a popular setting for several of her books, Children and Fire tells the story of a single day that forever transforms the lives of the townspeople. The book explores the reactions of the German citizens to Hitler's rise to power one year following the Reichstag fire. Hegi masterfully weaves past and present events in order to explain the motives of her characters. Although this novel revisits a common place and theme for Hegi, readers can read this without having read the prior Burgdorf trilogy. As is always the case when I read a Hegi novel, I finished the novel craving for more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is a brilliant book about...moral choice, love, secrets, self knowledge. And more. Set on one day in Germany (February 27, 1934) in Burgsdorf, Hegi's village of the other books in this series (Stories from the River, Floating in My Mother's Palm, The Vision of Emma Blau) this novel is astonishing in the absolute rightness of each word. That doesn't even begin to say how good this book is. I received this as a Good Reads First Reads win (and there was some delay in receiving it from the publis This is a brilliant book about...moral choice, love, secrets, self knowledge. And more. Set on one day in Germany (February 27, 1934) in Burgsdorf, Hegi's village of the other books in this series (Stories from the River, Floating in My Mother's Palm, The Vision of Emma Blau) this novel is astonishing in the absolute rightness of each word. That doesn't even begin to say how good this book is. I received this as a Good Reads First Reads win (and there was some delay in receiving it from the publisher). Worth waiting for. Hegi is one of the most interesting contemporary novelists around.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michale

    It was nice to be back in Burgdorf, but I feel that Hegi only began to explore the possibilities of the character of Thekla Jansen, as compared with that of Trudi Montag in her earlier works. Chilling descriptions of Germany in 1934, already robustly beginning to follow Nazism and venerate Hitler. The denouement at the end should come as no surprise, but the story does provide an interesting platform for a discussion of what makes up any individual's true identity.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    This book takes place over the course of one day in the early Nazi era in Germany, on the anniversary of the burning of the Reichstag. Chapters taking place on that day alternate with chapters flashing back to earlier times in the teacher's life. The book portrays the ways in which the German people were both seduced and betrayed by the Nazis. I love how the author had Thekla teaching her boys a poem that presaged how thoroughly they would be betrayed and used by the Nazis. Heartbreaking.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carol Hunter

    I am impressed by Hegi's skill in showing how a gifted compassionate teacher could let each silent agreement with an oppressive regime hurt her students and her. After living in Germany, I still haven't understood how people I liked could do such awful things. This impressive writer has helped me understand. I have been concerned that our country's extreme swing to the right could result in a situation like Nazi Germany and, after reading this, I am more convinced it is possible in the U.S.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I really liked Ursula Hegi's first book, Stones in the River, which I'd read a couple of years ago. However, this newest book was confusing and difficult to follow. It switches back and forth in time frames and, for me, nothing was ever very clear. Also, there's a non-too-surprising climax at the end which I'd figured out (as would most readers) way before it was put into words. All in all, disappointing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    Another good one from Ursula Hegi. This book is from the same fictional town of Burgdolf. My favorite character; Trudy Montag; is not very involved in this book with Thekla being the main character and doing a great job of telling her story. Once again Hegi brings her characters, town, time and era to life so you can drop yourself into the rabbit hole of Burgdolf.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Grossman

    I have read most of Ursela Hegi's novels and I love her writing style. But, I have to admit that I was disappointed by this read. It felt very fragmented to me. I will continue to read her books, but this was not one I would highly recommend. Her best was unquestionably "Stones from teh River."

  23. 4 out of 5

    West Hartford Public Library

    Told through the eyes and mind of one woman, teacher Thekla Jansen, during one day in her life in the Germany of 1934, this is story of how the small compromises and rationalizations we all make on a daily basis can move us far off the course set by our own moral compasses.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Pope

    Unsettling novel about the Third Reich and how even the most well-meaning people can allow evil to take hold.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    "That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also." Heinrich Heine Books selected for Oprah's Book Club are not supposed to be ones that wind up having a profound impact on one's soul, but that's exactly what happened to mine when O named Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River as one of her 1997 selections. For me personally, February 1997 was a bit of a challenging time (we were in Infertility Hell). So it's a bit of an understatement to say that I related to and "That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also." Heinrich Heine Books selected for Oprah's Book Club are not supposed to be ones that wind up having a profound impact on one's soul, but that's exactly what happened to mine when O named Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River as one of her 1997 selections. For me personally, February 1997 was a bit of a challenging time (we were in Infertility Hell). So it's a bit of an understatement to say that I related to and connected with Ursula Hegi's story of Trudi Montag, a "zwerg" (the German word for "a dwarf woman") living in fictional Burgdorf, Germany between 1915 and 1951. The themes of feeling different, of being "set apart" (not to mention Trudi being the town's librarian and collector of the townspeople's stories) deeply resonated with me in ways that I cannot quite begin to describe other than saying it was just the right book at the right time. So suffice it to say that Stones from the River remains one of my all-time favorite "take-to-a-desert-island" books to this very day and Ursula Hegi one of my very favorite authors. (With the one exception of her 2008 novel The Worst Thing I've Ever Done, which for me was absolutely unreadable. I couldn't get through more than a couple of dozen pages. It wasn't pretty.) I do remember enjoying Floating from My Mother's Palm and The Vision of Emma Blau, but since those were prior to my book blogging days, I don't remember much about them. (Time for a re-read!) I mention all this - and these three previous books of Ursula Hegi's - because they are all part of what she refers to as the "Burgdorf Cycle," of which Children and Fire is the latest offering. (When I saw this on the library's shelf and saw that it was a continuation of the Burgdorf stories, I practically wept.) And right from the get-go of Children and Fire, Ursula Hegi had me captivated again. I wouldn't say I loved this as much as Stones (because again, I think my love for that book stems from the time that I read it in, if that makes sense) but I really enjoyed this novel. I loved that Trudi Montag made several appearances in this one. (It was like saying hello to an old friend.) That being said, I don't think one has to have read the other Burgdorf Cycle books in order to appreciate this one, although it would probably be beneficial. (And if you're going to do that, read them in order: Floating, Stones, Children, and Vision. I think. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) Anyway. If you're a teacher, you'll probably especially appreciate Children and Fire. Thekla Jensen teaches a class of 9 year old boys in Germany in 1937, and her style and approach to education is one of incorporating all subjects along with a strong sense of caring and compassion for her young students. She thrives on their very presence (almost a bit too much, in some cases) and is wholly invested in their lives. Thekla rents a room from the Sostick family, whose only child Bruno is one of her students. (In the Burgdorf Cycle of things, Bruno's mother Gisela was once one of Thekla's classmates and theirs was a bit of a strained relationship.) Bruno, who clearly has what we now know as Asperger's Syndrome although that isn't mentioned by name (which it wouldn't have been, given that we're talking about 1937), wants desperately to join the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler youth). Thekla is conflicted about how best to support his individual decision as his teacher, while also struggling to do what's right by Bruno's family. "When she followed Bruno to the rally, she could spot right away that it had been organized by people who understood about teaching, how to respect children and inspire them. It was the way Thekla taught, instinctively. Too many of her students had been raised with the rule that children should be seen but not heard. Of course, it was intoxicating for them now to have a voice, to be told they were important, Germany's future. Alone, none of these children had power; yet, being part of the marching columns gave them a mysterious power, all of them moving as one. That part made Thekla uneasy, and she wouldn't mind saying that to Bruno's parents. But what she wouldn't admit to them is how, from being critical one moment, she was sucked into the swirl of song and of fire, into the emotions of the mass, that passion and urgency, that longing for something beyond them, something great, till she could no longer separate herself, till those emotions became hers, too, that hand to her throat, that sigh, that upsweep of her arm. She felt repulsed. But she didn't let herself show it. Because someone might be watching. Because it might be a trap. And because just before that moment of repulsion - for the duration of a single heartbeat - she had felt the children's rapture as her own, felt their pride at being part of this ceremony that was as mystical as church and as lavish as opera with its pomp and music and processions." (pg. 12-13) Internal and interpersonal conflicts, those spoken and unspoken, are at the heart of Children and Fire. Thekla's a complicated, conflicted woman, proud of her independence but who learns that it has come at a price paid by others' dependence and guilt. While she's thrilled to have finally landed a teaching position after ten years, it comes with a combination of guilt and loyalty to her beloved teacher and mentor, Sonja Siderova. There's the personal torment of those in her family (her mother Almut, her father Wilhelm) that they can never escape, that keeps them prisoners in their minds. There's Thekla's inability to commit to Emil, whom she loves but who she won't allow herself to fully love. ("Loving was different. It was only the falling she minded. She wished she could love like a man, be skin only, lust only. Her friend Emil was good practice." pg. 13) The structure of Children and Fire works beautifully and provides for the novel's tension, particularly toward the end. The chapters alternate between February 27, 1937 as we follow Thekla and her students through their school day and the years 1899 - 1933 which provides the critical elements to the novel's backstory such as the relationship between Thekla's parents and a wealthy Jewish couple in town and her father's family tragedy. The day that the current action takes place, Tuesday, February 27, 1937, is not random; it's the one year anniversary of a fire that destroyed the Reichstag, the parliment building in Berlin. Even though that fire was hundreds of miles away from quiet and quaint Burgdorf, there is the fear that whatever evil force was responsible for the fire will eventually come to their small village. (And as the reader knows from history, it surely will.) ("But within a few weeks after Markus left [a Jewish family who left Germany for America, despite others saying leaving was premature] Jewish children were no longer allowed in her school. Instead, they were taught all their subjects in the synagogue across the street. Thekla steps toward the window of her classroom. Steadies herself with one hand. How much do I know? How much must I try to find out? Once you know, it's tricky to keep the knowing at bay, to press it back into the before-knowing." pg. 22 "Must I keep asking till I find out what I'm afraid to know? Or can I decide to be satisfied with not knowing beyond what we are told? Because once I know, must I then come forth with that? The risk --" (pg. 24) I loved this one for the timeless and universal questions that we can all relate to, that we continue to seek answers to. This one is going to stay with me for awhile for all of those reasons.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Eshelman

    TLDR: Go read Stones from the River first. If you love that, then try this book. I’ve read Stones from the River 3 times. I enjoyed this book as an added layer on top of that novel. It was fun to see favorite characters again and get deep into the slowly-going-insane, gossip-fueled world of Burgdorf again. Overall I liked the way this novel was constructed, building a story simultaneously in Thekla’s ancestral past and on one day in Thekla’s present. That and Hegi’s incredible writing style kept TLDR: Go read Stones from the River first. If you love that, then try this book. I’ve read Stones from the River 3 times. I enjoyed this book as an added layer on top of that novel. It was fun to see favorite characters again and get deep into the slowly-going-insane, gossip-fueled world of Burgdorf again. Overall I liked the way this novel was constructed, building a story simultaneously in Thekla’s ancestral past and on one day in Thekla’s present. That and Hegi’s incredible writing style kept me intrigued. And I found the ending satisfying. But I wouldn’t read it again.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is my second book of the series, after Stones on The River (in audiobook) which I read many years ago. There’s a hypnotic and poetic quality to Hegi’s writing that I enjoy. This is what allowed me to finish the book to be honest. There were some parts of the book, especially towards the end where tension had built up enough that it could have moved a bit faster. The story was well done but I don’t think I’ll pick up the other books in this series.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paulette Ponte

    Ursula Hegi has a wonderful way of describing life in Germany during the time of Hitler. She relates to the German population and their lack of understanding about what was going on in the background of Hitler's mania. She doesn't make excuses but gives us some insight into how scary it must have been for the Jews and those who cared about them.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jan Prucnal

    2.5 *** The premise of the book was a good one- that of a day changing one's life. Events in Germany, mid 1930's, shaped the characters, which were well- developed. That said, I had to struggle to finish this book; the story became disjoined and confusing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Faye T. Stanley

    Waste of time Endless descriptions led to no real conclusions. Jumping across time periods for no reason. Just a jumble of characters with no unifying theme or point. Hours out of my life that I can never recover.

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