Ursula Hegi's Children and Fire
Ursula Hegi's latest novel Children and Fire opens in a German classroom on the two-year anniversary of the burning of the Reichstag. Thekla, a young, passionate teacher, leads her students in a discussion about the mysterious event. The students' responses reflect their families' opinions of Hitler's regime and who they think may have burned the building. Some students are staunch supporters, others are not. The tension rises as Thekla tries to shape the conversation to make the less enthusiastic answers less obvious. Though the stakes appear to be low - merely a conversation among young boys and their teacher - it is clear that this seeming innocence belies something more insidious.
What unfolds is a searing investigation of how the good can be corrupted by evil. In this case, the evil is Hitler's burgeoning regime and the good is Thekla, who believes that she can stay out of the fray if only she can remain focused on herself. She doesn't agree with what she sees, yet with every affront to her beliefs, she is forced to weigh what is truly important to her. She discovers, though, that staying on the right path may not be possible if she ignores her changing world.
Hegi's storytelling is artful, beautiful, reminiscent of folktale. Her characters are brilliantly drawn and even the smallest details glisten. This is a wonderful novel, and I can't wait to read this rest of her novels.