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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


by Ursula Hegi

Thekla Janson is a young school teacher in Burgdorf, Germany during the early days of Hitler's rise to power.  A caring and gifted teacher, she has a sweet disposition and finds something lovable in even the most annoying of her ten-year-old students.  They, in turn, love her dearly.

Janson has taken over the class from Ilse Abramowitz, a Jew.  Janson revered her old teacher and thinks about her often, but doesn't visit, fearful of repercussions.  She has no real affinity for the wave of patriotism permeating her country, yet encourages her students to become members of the "Hiltler Jugend" or Hitler Youth for the camaraderie and friendship.  Thekla is aware of the dramatic changes in Germany, but adopts a "go along to get along" attitude and is able to hide her head in the sand and continue with life as she wants it to be, both for herself and her students.

But there's so much more to this latest book from Hegi.  Janson is just a symbol of how fear and propaganda, fomented by Hitler, eroded the moral fabric of Germany, one person or one child at a time.  It's only when Janson discovers a secret in her own family that she begins to open her eyes and see the horrors for herself.

A number of years ago I read STONES FROM THE RIVER by the same author.  That book, like this one, stayed with me.  Hegi has a quiet, intelligent and understated writing style, yet still manages to vividly convey the chilling reality of her characters' lives and the insidious erosion of family, freedom and humanity in the landscape of Nazi Germany.  CHILDREN AND FIRE is another unforgettable book from Ursula Hegi, not to be missed.

ISBN 978-1-451-60829-8
Pub. Date:  May 2011
288 pages
Hardcover and eBook

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