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

Skeletons at the Feast

by Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian X
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
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  • First Published:
    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. As they work their way west, they encounter a countryside ravaged by war.

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 Review

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...continued

Full Review (970 words).

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(Reviewed by Vy Armour).

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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Beyond the Book

East Prussia

The Central European region known as Prussia extended from the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea to the Masurian Lake District which is now divided between Poland, Russia, and Lithuania. East Prussia was a province in the Eastern part of the region which, along with the rest of Prussia, became part of the German Empire during the unification of Germany in 1871. In 1875, almost three-quarters of the region were ethnically German, the remainder were Polish and Lithuanian.

As the Russian troops marched across Europe in the waning months of World War II, many ethnic Germans evacuated or were forcibly expelled from territories claimed by Germany during the early years of World War II, such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, and...

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