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 familys farm as forced labor. And there is a twenty-six-year-old Wehrmacht corporal, who the pair know as Manfredwho 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 Annas and Callums love, as well as their friendship with Manfredassuming 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 centurys greatest tragedieswhile creating, perhaps, a masterpiece that will haunt readers for generations.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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... Read More
Rated of 5
by 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... Read More
Rated of 5
by Debbie skeletons at the feast I'm usually anxious to read new books by Chris Bohjalian, but was disappointed by this one. I felt his war scenes were too graphic and the story line wasn't as interesting as his other books. I don't think I'd recommend the book, but will look... Read More
Rated of 5
by Priscilla Skeletons at the Feast In the past several years, I have read enough books depicting the lives of average German citizens during WWII to realize that as hard as it is for Americans to understand, many Germans were unaware of the use of Hitler's death camps to... Read More
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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 mirrored moments in the grandmother's diary. It was upon a
second reading of the diary that he began to imagine a novel.
"I will tell you that I felt an enormous responsibility to the people I
interviewed while researching the topic to get it right. These are...
Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class. At its center this is a profoundand profoundly movingexploration of shame, forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.
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