Summary and book reviews of Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast

By Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast
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  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2009,
    384 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

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About this Book

Book Summary

In January 1945, in the waning months of World War II, a small group of people begin the longest journey of their lives: an attempt to cross the remnants of the Third Reich, from Warsaw to the Rhine if necessary, to reach the British and American lines.

Among the group is eighteen-year-old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats. There is her lover, Callum Finella, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war who was brought from the stalag to her family’s farm as forced labor. And there is a twenty-six-year-old Wehrmacht corporal, who the pair know as Manfred–who is, in reality, Uri Singer, a Jew from Germany who managed to escape a train bound for Auschwitz.

As they work their way west, they encounter a countryside ravaged by war. Their flight will test both Anna’s and Callum’s love, as well as their friendship with Manfred–assuming any of them even survive.

Perhaps not since The English Patient has a novel so deftly captured both the power and poignancy of romance and the terror and tragedy of war. Skillfully portraying the flesh and blood of history, Chris Bohjalian has crafted a rich tapestry that puts a face on one of the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies–while creating, perhaps, a masterpiece that will haunt readers for generations.

Excerpted from the Prologue

JANUARY 1945

THE GIRL—A YOUNG WOMAN, REALLY, EIGHTEEN, HAIR the color of corn silk—had been hearing the murmur of artillery fire for two days now. Everyone had. A rare and peculiar winter thunderstorm in the far distance. Little more. The sconces in the living room hadn’t twitched, the chandelier in the ballroom (a modest ballroom, but a ballroom nonetheless) barely had trembled. The horses, while she was harnessing them and helping to load the wagons—short trips with bags full of oats (because, after all, so much would depend on the horses) and longer ones with some of the clothes and the silver and the jewelry they were going to take with them—had looked up. But the animals hadn’t expressed particular interest. If, Anna surmised, they had thought of anything they had thought of the cold: It was one of those frigid weeks when the days would alternate between whiteout-like snowstorms and periods so still that the smoke ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Skeletons at the Feast: Reading Guide & Q&A


Reading Guide
In the chaotic months before the final collapse of the Third Reich, the Germans living in the eastern part of Hitler’s empire fled their homes to escape the onslaught of the Soviet Army. If these refugees didn’t know the specifics of the atrocities their people had committed on Russian soil –and, in fact, were still committing in concentration camps across Poland and Germany–they nonetheless understood that the Russians were going to be merciless.

It is this world that Chris Bohjalian brings vividly and powerfully to life in Skeletons at the Feast. A Prussian aristocrat struggles west with her beautiful daughter, her young son, and a Scottish prisoner ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Aside from the gripping story, fans of Chris Bohjalian will find this book quite a departure from his previous novels. However, there are familiar strains from his earlier works.

By telling the story from many viewpoints, using characters in varying life circumstances, (a POW, a Jew who escapes from the train to Auschwitz, a wealthy landowner, a young Jewish women in a death march) the story is not only richer, but symbolically it is a further reminder of the broad impact of this war on so many races, nationalities and countries.

As disturbing as it was to read at times, it left one feeling hopeful for the resiliency of the human race and how hope and goodness can not only endure but flourish after tremendous loss and suffering.   (Reviewed by Vy Armour).

Full Review Members Only (1491 words).

Media Reviews
The Burlington Free Press - Tom Paine

Nail-biting, heart-ripping. . .truly brilliant. The reader of Skeletons at the Feast is quietly checkmated by Bohjalian into a radical compassion we’ve heard somewhere before: Love Thy Enemy. . .I loved this unforgettable novel.

Bookpage - Rebecca Stropoli

Bohjalian demonstrates an intricate historical knowledge and impressively illustrates the stark horrors of the time. . .A compelling read with its mix of history, romance and portrayals of strength in the midst of severe adversity: War really is hell, the book says, but the human spirit is ultimately salvageable.

Publishers Weekly

Although most of the characters lack complexity, Bohjalian's well-chosen descriptions capture the anguish of a tragic era and the dehumanizing desolation wrought by war.

Kirkus Reviews

Though occasionally groaning under the weight of its mighty themes-man's-inhumanity-to-man, the-horror-the-horror, hope-rising-from-rubble-sheer storytelling here ultimately wins out, trumping the novel's self-consciously mythic ambitions.

Library Journal - Andrea Y. Griffith

The novel is immensely readable, but the characters seem more like archetypes than individuals. However, Bohjalian takes a fresh perspective and details the brutal realities of World War II in a novel that for once does not focus entirely on the Allies.

Reader Reviews
Gunta

A page turner
This novel is a narrative. A historically well researched tome. A bird's eye view of the last months of WW II as experienced by a German family. It makes one cry, laugh and be proud to be a member of the human race. A trek on foot, across ...   Read More

Judy O.

For Me, a Very Special Book!
Much has been said in other reviews about the plot, so I won't go there. This book gripped me in its pages, and occasionally I would be so caught up in the characters' lives that I'd have to put the book down for awhile and think about something ...   Read More

Zoe

A descriptive heart-wrenching view of World War II
Chris Bohjalian has certainly tackled a myriad of subjects: midwives and the stigma of birth defects in the early 60s, trans-gendered relationships in the present day and even revisiting the Great Gatsby. In his latest novel we are drawn into the end...   Read More

Kimberly

Skeletons at the Feast
Skeletons at the Feast is at once graphically disturbing and heart wrenching. Bohjalian excels at bringing forth the exodus from Poland and escape from the Third Reich during the Second World War. Told through the eyes of haunting characters, ...   Read More

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Invite Chris to Chat with your book club
To invite Chris to chat with your book club by phone about Skeletons or any of his other books, visit BookBrowse's Invite the Author page, from where you can send a message to Chris, or any of the other 30+ authors looking forward to chatting with book clubs.


The Making of a Historical Novel
Skeletons at the Feast had its origin ten years ago when good friends of Bohjalian's family shared a diary from their East Prussian grandmother from the years 1920-1945, including the arduous trek west ahead of the Soviet Army. Eight years later, Bohjalian read Armagedden, Max Hasting's history of the last year of war in Germany, and was struck by how often the anecdotes in Hasting's non-fiction ...

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