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.
Excerpted from the Prologue
THE GIRLA YOUNG WOMAN, REALLY, EIGHTEEN, HAIR the color of corn silkhad 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 hadnt 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 wagonsshort 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 themhad looked up. But the animals hadnt 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 ...
Skeletons at the Feast: Reading Guide & Q&A
In the chaotic months before the final collapse of the Third Reich, the Germans living in the eastern part of Hitlers empire fled their homes to escape the onslaught of the Soviet Army. If these refugees didnt 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 Germanythey 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 ...
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 (1491 words).
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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 ...
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