Emily's Reviews > Skeletons at the Feast

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
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Jul 22, 2008

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bookshelves: what-i-read-in-2008, funky-fiction
Read in August, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian is a novel about a group of travelers on the Eastern Front of WWII during the final months of the Third Reich. It's loosely based on a true story and follows the lives of six main characters journeying across Eastern Germany in the dead of winter. There are three members of the Emmerich family, Mutti, Theo, and Anna. The Emmerichs are accompanied by their Scottish POW, Callum and a Jewish man masquerading as a German soldier to escape detection named Uri. The book also follows a young French Jewish woman marching with a group of women from a Nazi work camp named Cecille. Most of the story is with the Emmerichs, Callum, and Uri. It follows the five of them as travel together in an effort to stay ahead of the rapidly approaching Russian army and in the hopes of getting through the winter and safely over western lines. Cecille's story is told in between. Much of her daily life is spent marching to an unknown future, witnessing the horrors that the Nazi guards inflict on the Jewish women, and experiencing unexpected kindness from where she least expects it.

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** I liked that the book had good Germans. The general portrayal of Nazi Germany is that all Germans proscribed to the Nazi belief system with limited to no resistance. It was nice to see a portrayal of a family that sat on the line and a bit across it. - Plus 3

** The work camp guards were sufficiently brutal. They reminded me of their portrayal in Schindler's List - Plus 2

** Call me a pessimist, but I don't buy that Uri could have gotten away with his chameleon act for as long as he did. - Minus 3

** The Eastern front brutality isn't something that's especially prevalent in the stories, books, and movies I've seen about World War II. I appreciated the alternate perspective. - Plus 2

** A personal issue with the edition that I read ... A detailed map would have been nice. I'm not especially familiar with German geography, and got particularly confused when names of towns and villages were thrown about. - Minus 2

** Chapter size was okay. Not perfect, but broken up enough to be bus ride friendly - Plus 1

** The novel wasn't sufficiently uplifting or depressing in my opinion. It was in a gray zone. Of course, I'm fully willing to admit that this was the plan for the author, in an effort to demonstrate a sense of numbness on the part of the characters. - Neutral

** I liked that there were more than just people walking with Cecille on the march between work camps. The author could have made them names and nothing more, but he took the time to tell back stories on a few of the women, and I appreciated their perspective. - Plus 3

** I didn't understand the point of the prologue. It was the middle portion of the book and it could have just been in the correct place chronologically. Putting it at the beginning as a prologue gave it absolutely nothing. - Minus 3

** There were so many holes in this novel. It could have used at least 100 more pages of narrative to cover the big chunks of time that went missing. It's so frustrating reading a good book, and then you get towards the end and suddenly weeks and months worth of time are passed over in an effort to keep the book at a certain length. I only hope the final chapters of the drafts had more substance than the final edition. - Minus 3

** The quotes on the cover imply that this book is a great romantic journey between Callum and Anna. I believe one that I saw mentioned that it was the best since The English Patient. It wasn't. The reality is that the story is a journey of a family, and it's struggle to survive. Callum and Anna just happen to have a love affair in between it all, and their story is by no means the centerpiece of the novel. - Minus 3

Final Tally ... Plus 3. Overall, this novel would make for a good beach read with some substance, but it's no great classic piece of literature. Provided you don't go into reading it with more expectations than that, you'll like it. If you think it's going to have more depth than the most recent best selling chick lit, you'll likely be disappointed.
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