Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi
A Novel (Burgdorf Cycle)

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Synopsis

The fourth novel in the Burgdorf Cycle

Though more than fifteen years have passed since Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River captivated critics and readers alike, it retains its popularity, is on academic reading lists, and continues to be adopted by book groups.

Also set in Burgdorf, Germany, Hegi’s Children and Fire tells the story of a single day that will forever transform the lives of the townspeople. At the core of this remarkable novel is the question of how one teacher—gifted and joyful, passionate and inventive—can become seduced by propaganda during the early months of Hitler’s regime and encourage her ten-year-old students to join the “Hitler-Jugend” with its hikes and songs and bonfires. Membership, she believes, will be a step toward better schools, better apprenticeships.

How can a woman we admire choose a direction we don’t admire? So much has changed for the teacher, Thekla Jansen, and the people of Burgdorf in the year since the parliament building burned. Thekla’s lover, Emil Hesping, is sure the Nazis did it to frame the communists. But Thekla believes what she hears on the radio, that the communists set the fire, and she’s willing to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each silent agreement chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it.

Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experiences of individual characters: Thekla’s mother, who works as a housekeeper for a Jewish family; her employers, Michel and Ilse Abramowitz; Thekla’s mentally ill father; Trudi Montag and her father, Leo Montag; Fräulein Siderova, midwife to the dying; and the students who adore their young teacher. As Ursula Hegi writes along that edge where sorrow and bliss meet, she shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear, how a surge of national unity can be manipulated into the dehumanization of a perceived enemy and the justification of torture and murder.

Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi’s position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.
 

About Ursula Hegi

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Ursula Hegi is the author of The Worst Thing I've Done, Sacred Time, Hotel of the Saints, The Vision of Emma Blau, Tearing the Silence, Salt Dancers, Stones from the River, Floating in My Mother's Palm, Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories, Intrusions, and Trudi & Pia. She teaches writing at Stonybrook's Southhampton Campus and she is the recipient of more than thirty grants and awards.
 
Published May 24, 2011 by Scribner. 290 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Children and Fire

Kirkus Reviews

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when one student repeats his antifascist father’s comments about “that damn Austrian,” Thekla is quick to reprimand the boy for swearing, in hopes that the other students will remember that, and not his father’s dangerous remark.

Apr 04 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

The New York Times

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But lest Burgdorf sound a little too picturesque and gemütlich, the village is also — like any place, like every place — home to cruelty and cowardice and harm, qualities Hegi makes all the more disturbing by locating them in both large-scale events and in the vicissitudes of daily life, in the p...

Jun 24 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

Publishers Weekly

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Trudi confides that Pia is the first person she's ever met that's like her, and asks Pia if she has met others in her travels: "I have met one hundred and four, to be exact," Pia replies.

| Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

Publishers Weekly

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Hegi returns in her languid latest to the fictional village of Burgdorf, Germany, from Stones from the River and The Vision of Emma Blau, focusing this time on Thekla Jansen, a teacher during the early days of the third Reich.

Feb 28 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

The Wall Street Journal

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Hegi intersperses these scenes with flashbacks from Thekla's childhood, and as the book progresses, the teacher's past and present converge, producing a revelation that opens her eyes: Any collusion with the Nazis can only end in catastrophe.

May 21 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

Book Reporter

Jansen is the embodiment of a young woman who discovers that her life is truly dependent on both her own actions and those of others.

Jun 27 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

MostlyFiction Book Reviews

In her new novel, Children and Fire, Ursula Hegi tells the story of Thekla Jansen, a teacher in the fictional German village of Burgdorf, familiar to readers of the author’s previous novels.

Jun 28 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

Bookmarks Magazine

As Ursula Hegi writes along that edge where sorrow and bliss meet, she shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear, how a surge of national unity can be manipulated into the dehumanization of a perceived...

Jun 06 2011 | Read Full Review of Children and Fire: A Novel (B...

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