cover image Children and Fire

Children and Fire

Ursula Hegi, Scribner, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4516-0829-8

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. It's 1934, and the burning of the Reichstag the year before still haunts many minds, particularly those of the boys in Thekla's fourth grade class. Convinced that Hitler cannot last forever as leader of Germany and believing the path of least resistance to be the surest way of protecting her boys from harm, Thekla accedes to the government's increasing interference in daily life, such as the banning of certain books and interrupting class time for the Führer's radio speeches. But the encircling political danger and her own moral compromises are not her only worries, as a secret from Thekla's past may jeopardize everything she has worked to preserve. Hegi captures the passions, curiosities, and cruelties of boyhood with uncanny precision, and she smoothly injects German culture to create an authentic atmosphere, but the narrative feels too loose as it meanders across time, and its reliance on a tired family secret amounts to a finished product that doesn't live up to the dramatic potential of its historical moment. (May)