>> Friday, December 6, 2013
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication Date: 2008
Reading Challenge: What's in a Name?
The Short Version:
A mixed group of refugees flee the advancing Russian army in the final days of World War II.
Why I Read It:
This has been on my TBR list for quite a while and the word Feast in the title worked for the Party or Celebration category for this Year’s What’s in a Name Challenge (even though the subject matter is hardly celebratory).
From the publisher:
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.
Along with the characters mentioned in the publisher's synopsis above there is also Cecile who is a young Frenchwoman in a Concentration camp. She and the remaining women in the camp are rounded up and marched deeper into the remains of Germany after the camp is destroyed to hide any evidence of it's true nature from the advancing allies.
This is not an easy book to read. The horrible realities of wartime in general and the specific terrors of this era are not sugar coated by Bohjalian at all. Neither does he portray Germans as the only evildoers. The Russians committed inhumane things too.
With several main characters it's difficult to get deeply under the surface with any one of them and as a result each of the primary four end up seeming to represent a 'type'. However, this didn’t keep me from being involved in the story. It's a powerful story that goes behind the battlefields to the civilians and their desperate effort to survive.
Although difficult to read because Bohjalian doesn’t gloss over the brutalities and horrors of what happened it’s a book I can definitely recommend. It was refreshing to read a story set in this time period but not on the Allies side of the front.