Ursula Hegi

"Hotel of the Saints"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 17, 2001)

Hotel of the Saints is a collection of eleven stories, the title of the book the same as the first story. Although each story is unique, they all seem to carry a common theme, or perhaps more specifically, a common emotion; something that isn't exactly love, but more like the essence of the moment in which one transitions from being held and that of being released. While the stories are told in a very simple, low-key tone, the character interactions are complicated and the stories are filled with lingering subtleties.

In A Women's Perfume, Christa, now married and divorced several times, recalls the summer vacation in a hotel near Trieste with her father after her mother has divorced him. It's while she's experiencing severe cramps from a menstrual period, only her fourth ever, that Frau Hilger climbs over the balcony to help her. The barren Frau Hilger seizes the opportunity to treat Christa as she would her own adolescent daughter and to dedicate herself to improving the young girl.

In The End of All Sadness, tired of being a single mother, the woman brings home a man who's been sleeping on the ground by the pond. She marries him after he hits her for smiling at the postman. Ironically, this woman feels release in having found a man that holds her so under his control, that in the end, not even her daughter has space. Granted, this is the eeriest one of the whole set of stories. It reminds me of the novel In the Absence of Nectar by Kathy Hepinstall, only Hegi tells her version in four short pages.

Every one of these remaining stories is just as fascinating with offbeat characters placed in settings, which range from Hegi's native Germany, Italy, Mexico and to the Pacific Northwest. In the title story, a seminar student is trying to find his faith while his aunt sheds the years of incapacity imposed by her husband. In Stolen Chocolates, a woman runs into her childhood sweetheart, who weighs three times more than he did when they were younger, at a restaurant with an "all you can eat" buffet. In The Juggler, a mother tries to protect her daughter from marrying a man who is going blind. For Their Own Survival, a man decides to return to the couple's last vacation spot to get a clue as to what caused his wife to do the most unexpected thing: she left him. The longest story, Lower Crossing, is that of two middle age sisters, living amongst a community of eclectics, who are dealing with the process of letting their old dog die.

I really enjoyed Hegi's insight and imagination in this short story collection. Every one of these poignant stories is worth reading several times. Besides its a nice book to own just for the bright cover artwork.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews

Read an excerpt from Hotel of the Saints at Mostlyfiction.com

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"Stones from the River"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 9 1998)

This epic story is told from the perspective of a female dwarf, Trudi Montag, living in Germany during the rise of Hitler until the end of the war. It's an incredible perspective of a small German town and how the politics affect and divide. The fact that the narrator has a physical deformity causing her own anguish is a good story in and of itself, but set in this time period gives it a double edge. Stones from the River is the kind of a literature that captures and holds onto your imagination. 

This is one of Oprah's early picks.  If you normally avoid Oprah's picks, please don't pass this one by.  It is a truly great one.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 318 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

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About the Author:

Ursula Hegi Ursula Hegi grew up in a small German town in the 1950s. She left Germany when she was 18 years old, moved to the United States and became a citizen five years later.  When she was 28, with two sons under 5 years, she enrolled at the University of New Hampshire for a B.A., and then an M.A.  Ursula has received approximately 30 grants and awards, including an NEA Fellowship and five awards from the PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards. Hegi had been the professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University and lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years. She now lives in New York State.

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