Wednesday, May 19, 2010
'Skeletons at the Feast'..... A book review......
'Skeletons at the Feast'
A book review......
'Skeletons at the Feast', written by Chris Bohjalian, is an historical novel that takes place in the final months of World War II. Bohjalian, in an interview, said that the inspiration for the book came after a friend loaned him the diary of her German grandmother. However, he points out that the book is not based on the diary, nor are the characters. Bohjalian also states in the interview, "one of the issues I wanted to explore in the novel was the complicity of the average German civilian in the Holocaust." This book was very different from any other book I've read about World War II in that it is written from a German civilian prospective.
The story begins in Prussia, where the Emmerich's, a family of Prussian aristocrats own an estate. Unexplainable things are happening around them. People are disappearing. Children at school are being pumped for information about their home life. The family economic situation has deteriorated and the Russian front is moving in.
Seven British POW's from a near by prison camp are sent to help the family harvest crops. One of them known as Callum and the Emmerich's eighteen year old daughter Anna fall in love. They begin having an affair unbeknownst to the family. It is through the conversations Anna has with Callum that she begins to realize some of the atrocities people in her country have been committing. She begins to doubt her government and many of the things she has grown up to believe in.
As the Russians begin closing in the family realizes they must leave their beloved estate. The father obtains permission to take Callum with them. They pack very little belongings, leave most of they're pets and live stock, and become refugees like so many others during that time. Shortly after the family starts this very treacherous journey, the older brother, and father leave to fight in the German army. Callum, the mother, the little brother, and Anna are forced to continue on alone in the hopes of reaching the American and British lines.
Callum and the family face death and destruction every where they turn as they travel through the war ravaged country side.
During they're journey they meet and then travel with Uri, a Jew who has escaped from a train heading to Auschwitz, a Jewish death camp. Uri, calls himself Manfred, and is traveling the country posing as a German soldier. These five individuals come to form a deep attachment and lasting love for one another.
Through out the story one gets a clear view of war and the chilling and horrendous devastation it causes. One hears of the death camps and of the death marches. One follows the fictitious Cecile, a young Jewish girl forced into one of the death marches and the torment she and others must endure.
'Skeletons of the Feast' is a story about love, loss, heroism, and humanity at it's worst. It is also a story about the human spirit at it's finest. It is a book that is quite disturbing to read and yet one that is difficult to put down.
In deciding on an epigraph for the book, Bohjalian said he considered several options. One option that he didn't choose was the remarks of Martin Niemoller in the post war period.
"First they came for the Socialists, and I didn't speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionist's, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me."
Instead, the epigraph Bohjahlian did choose was as follows:
"The past is never dead.
It's not even past"
Images courtesy ofbarnes and Noble