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From Barnes & NobleIn a gripping epic that spans an entire century and four generations of the Blau family, THE VISION OF EMMA BLAU is a story of loves and hates, of excesses and successes, of sins absolved and the search for redemption. It begins with Stefan Blau, a young boy who migrates from Burgdorf, Germany (the fictional setting for STONES FROM THE RIVER), to America at the naïve and impressionable age of 13. For several years he carves out a living and even manages to save a few dollars working various jobs in New York City. After a tragic fire nearly costs him his life, he moves to New Hampshire where he buys an old building along the edge of a lake, prompted by a recurring vision he has of a young girl playing in front of a massive and beautiful apartment building.
Stefan eventually brings part of his vision to life when he builds a beautiful, opulent, six-story apartment house he calls the Wasserburg -- German for "water castle." For Stefan, the building is the culmination of a dream, a fire-proofed edifice that houses not only himself and his family, but all his hopes for the future. It is a legacy that turns out to be both a salvation and a curse.
Stefan's first two wives both die in childbirth, though their offspring -- Greta and Tobias -- survive. Wanting a mother for his children but not wishing to risk another wife to pregnancy, Stefan takes advantage of the love felt for him by his childhood sweetheart, Helene Montag, who has been writing him over the years. Stefan fetches her from Burgdorf to be his third wife with the intent of maintaining a childless marriage. But Helene manages to break through his barriers long enough to conceive, creating a culture of sibling rivalry that will affect the Blau family for years to come.
Each generation of the Blau family suffers from a variety of problems, character faults, and emotional stunting, everything from being a closet gay to compulsive eating disorders. They all share one common struggle, however, that of trying to assimilate themselves into American society. The outbreak of World War II does little to help this process and the Blaus often find themselves the object of others' hate and discrimination simply because they are German.
When Stefan's granddaughter Emma is born, he recognizes her as the young girl from his long ago vision. Emma seizes upon her grandfather's love for the Wasserburg, but unfortunately the building passes to Emma's flaky mother upon Stefan's death. As the years pass, Emma tries to maintain the Wasserburg in the face of her mother's indifference and irresponsible spending, but the once grand house eventually loses its luster and becomes home to a seedier clientele. It also becomes a bone of contention between various family members, a legacy with the ability to tear the family apart. In fact, the house is as much a character in this tale as any of the people, an almost living, breathing entity that holds great influence over those who live within its walls -- walls that have come to know the secrets, tragedies, and dreams of many generations of Blaus.
Hegi is the perfect narrator for the audio version, which she abridged herself. Her voice is as distinctive as her prose and her accent is fitting to the characters she portrays. And while she makes little effort to change her voice when switching from one character to another, the strength of the writing and the depth of her characterizations make it clear who is who. It is obvious both on tape and on paper that Hegi is not only a born storyteller, but one of the most distinctive literary voices of our time.
Freelancer Beth Amos is an audio addict.