Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Skeletons at the Feast

Summary: A masterful love story set against a backdrop of epic history and unforgettable courage In the waning months of World War II, a small group of people begin the longest journey of their lives. At the center is eighteen-year-old Anna, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats, and her first love, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war named Callum. With his boyish good looks and his dedication to her family, he has captured Anna’s heart. But he is the enemy, and their love must remain a closely guarded secret. Only Manfred, a twenty-six-year-old Wehrmacht corporal, knows the truth. And Manfred, who is not what he seems to be, is reluctantly taken with Anna, just as she finds herself drawn uncomfortably to him. As these unlikely allies work their way west, their flight will test both Anna’s and Callum’s love, as well as their friendship with Manfred–and will forever bind the young trio together. -- Three Rivers Press

My on-line book club read SKELETONS AT THE FEAST by Chris Bohjalian for July. Our discussion was almost three weeks ago, and I just realized that I forgot to write my review of this book. I think with all of the kids' activities and vacations, it just slipped through the cracks which is really unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

In the case of SKELETONS AT THE FEAST, Mr. Bohjalian wrote a book about World War II (not exactly a new concept in recent fiction.) However, he managed to create a story unlike any other World War II book that I've read. SKELETONS AT THE FEAST tells the story of a wealthy Prussian family, the Emmerichs, who decides to evacuate their home at the end of World War II. The novel shows us their difficult journey as well as many of the people and places they encounter.

This novel really opened my eyes and gave me a unique perspective on how the war affected everyone -- not just the Jews. Believe me when I say that I don't think Prussians were even close to suffering like those that were placed in concentration camps; however, this novel made me see that many of them were victims too. Because the Emmerichs were so isolated on their estate, they didn't realize how powerful (and how evil) Hitler had become until it was too late. Seeing the war in this new light made me start to see how these events transpired, but it also made me question what individuals allow themselves to "see."

I consider myself a pretty big fan of Mr. Bohjalian's. I've read many of his novels and I think he brings something new to each one. One thing that I've noticed about all of his books is that his characters are extremely well-developed. He brings each one to life -- even the minor ones and makes them so complex (especially in this book.) I absolutely loved the character of Uri, a young Jewish man who had escaped from a train heading to Auschwitz. Through his sheer will to live, he took on many roles (even pretending to be a German soldier.) He was smart and resourceful while at the same time craving the love of a family.

SKELETONS AT THE FEAST is not always an easy read, but I think it's well worth the effort. This novel broke my heart over and over again, and yet, I loved how it allowed me to see the overall effects of war on good people. And while I do think SKELETONS AT THE FEAST was a book about war and its victims, I can also say that it wasn't entirely depressing. At its heart, this novel was a story about love on many different levels -- between parent and child, man and woman, and friends. And while I often felt like crying while reading this book, I do think that my overall impressions of this book were very positive -- SKELETONS AT THE FEAST actually left me with a feeling of hope!

I do think SKELETONS AT THE FEAST was a terrific pick for our book club. Most of us appreciate historical fiction, but I thought this novel went to the next level. There was so much to discuss about each of the characters and their motivations, but there were also some huge themes about war and life in general. There is a reading guide which touches upon many of these issues including war, conflict, loyalty, secrets, deception, prejudice, love, family, death, grief, and hope.

I was truly blown away by parts of this novel and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of historical fiction and especially World War II books.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful novel and so intense. Definitely a perfect selection for book club. So much to discuss. While very disturbing, Bohjalian wrote so caringly and detailed that you become so involved w/ the characters.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book too and thought it was a great book to discuss.

Jenny Girl said...

Ditto what Kathy said. Glad you loved it as much as I did.
Great review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Everything about WWII is heartbreaking, but it is good it did leave you with some hope. Many don't, you just finish the book and fall into a malaise. I've heard about this one, and of course it appeals to me because I love reading about this period in history. I could pretty much read only WWII books and still have too many to read!

S. Krishna said...

With the way July went, I never got around to reading this. I'm glad you liked it and I'll definitely pick it up at some point!

Julie said...

Have you read any of his other books? He's a fav of mine. I can recommend some if you want.

This is on my TBR pile.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds really good! Makes you glad we've been protected (for the most part) by that big ocean!

J.T. Oldfield said...

I think we sometimes tend to forget how many people struggled and died during WWII. Something like 22 million Russians died, for example. While I don't think I'd like to read a hist fic novel about say, Hitler's inner circle, I think reading about civilians on all sides is important. I mean, how many books about Southern plantation owners during the Civil War are there? Nobody would discount Gone with the Wind because Scarlett O'Hara wasn't a slave.

Beth F said...

Nice review -- really hard to write about because it is such an emotional read. I'm so glad you liked it.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Great review. I'm still on the fence about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear you liked this book. It's been on my to-read list for ages, and I snagged a copy from the bargain table just after Christmas. No idea why I haven't read it yet.

I'm always looking for new perspectives on the events of WWII.

I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.