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Children and Fire

Children and Fire

A Novel

  • reading group guide
The fourth novel in the Burgdorf Cycle

Children and Fire tells the story of one day that will forever transform the lives of the people in Burgdorf, Germany, the fictitious village by the river in Ursula Hegi’s bestselling novels. February 27, 1934—the first anniversary of the burning of Reichstag, the Parliament building in Berlin.

Thekla Jansen, a gifted young teacher, loves her students and tries to protect them from the chaos beyond their village. Believing the Nazis’ new regime will not last forever, Thekla begins to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each compromise chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it.

Ursula Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experience of Thekla, her students, and the townspeople as she writes along the edge where sorrow and bliss meet, and shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear.

Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi’s position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451608304 | 
  • May 2012
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

AWINTER MORNING IN 1934. Imagine frost on the windowpanes of the schoolhouse in this village by the Rhein, milk blossoms of frost. Imagine the chill on the necks of the boys in Fräulein Jansen’s classroom. Feel their dread because today is the first anniversary of the fire that destroyed the parliament building in Berlin, a fire that has scorched their dreams in a whoosh of yellow and red, jagged and fast, so fast it’s like a whip, like a hot wind, clutching at timbers till they cave in.

“What if the communists burn our school?” the boys ask their young teacher.
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Children and Fire includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

Ursula Hegi's Burgdorf Cycle encompasses 4 novels set in the fictional German village of Burgdorf: Stones from the River, Floating in my Mother’s Palm, The Vision of Emma Blau, and now Children and Fire.

Children and Fire is the story of a single day, February 27, 1934, exactly one year after the burning of the Reichstag (German Parliament.) It is a day that will forever transform the lives of the townspeople.

At the core of this remarkable novel is the question how one teacher, Thekla Jansen—gifted and joyful, passionate and inventive—can become seduced by propaganda during the early months of Hitler’s regime and encourage her 10-year-old students to join the Hitler Youth, believing that membership—hikes and songs and bonfires and uniforms—will be a step toward better schools, better apprenticeships, a better future.

How can a woman we admire choose a direction we don't admire? So much has changed for Thekla, and the people of Burgdorf in the past year. Thekla's lover, Emil Hesping, i see more

More Books from this Author

About the Author

Ursula Hegi
Photo Credit: Gordon Gagliano

Ursula Hegi

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.

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