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.