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118 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting
I am a huge fan of Christopher Bohjalian, I can't say enough good things about his novels. What I enjoy most is his ability to find unique and controversial topics to write about and explore. I was a little surprised to hear he was writing a book that was placed during WWII in Germany. I was leary to see if he could pull this off, to take a topic that has been written...
Published on June 8, 2008 by Theresa W

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How could they not know...
... about the brutality by their army and the SS, and what was being done to the Jews?

This fundamental moral question underlies and drives Chris Bohjalian's novel SKELETONS AT THE FEAST. His story, inspired by the diaries of one such unaware German, focuses on a wealthy farming family in Eastern Prussia, and their lives during the last months of World War II...
Published on February 15, 2010 by Friederike Knabe


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118 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, June 8, 2008
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
I am a huge fan of Christopher Bohjalian, I can't say enough good things about his novels. What I enjoy most is his ability to find unique and controversial topics to write about and explore. I was a little surprised to hear he was writing a book that was placed during WWII in Germany. I was leary to see if he could pull this off, to take a topic that has been written about over and over and movies have been made- could he do something new? The answer is yes.

This isn't the average holocaust novel, featuring mainly Jews in a concentration camp. This book takes a look at how this horrific time in Germany affected many different people. The main characters are a Prussian family who is on the run to find security in another country- a wealthy family who never thought the war would touch them and who did not believe in the autrocities that they were told were going on. Also on the run with them is a Scottish POW, which gives us the perspective of how this war affected those who weren't even citizens of Germany and yet they gave their lives. Lastly there is Uri who is a Jew who escaped from a concentration camp, and two women who did not escape a prison camp, where we see that sickening side of the war. I really loved how these characters were all sort of thrown together and we saw all of these different perspectives.

The tale is haunting, but what else can you say about the holocaust? More than the holocaust, this novel explores the darkside of human nature, but also the part in all of us that is a survivalist and preservere's. I read Cormack McCarthy's novel The Road last year and as I was reading this book I just couldn't stop thinking about the similarities. Maybe this book will reach those heights, it surely deserves it, as does Bohjalian's talents.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Bohjalian's Masterpiece, May 7, 2008
By 
Marvin Minkler "North Star Monthly" (St. Johnsbury, VT United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
Chris Bohjalian has written his finest novel to date, set against the brutal, waning days of World War II in Eastern Germany. The Soviet Army is advancing through Poland, and ahead of it a small, thrown-together group of refugees, begin a long, arduous trek ahead of the Russians, trugging across the devastation of the smoldering Third Reich. Concentration camps, death marches, brutal Nazis, POWs, broken families, rampaging Russian soldiers, and terrified refugees. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, all humbled by the bitter January cold. Yet, in the midst of this gutwrenching carnage, the author writes of new-found love, tender family moments, bonding friendships, resiliency, and hope. Above all - hope. Skeletons at the Feast, is Bohjalian's masterpiece. The power of the narrative will stay with the reader long after this book is put on the shelf. Inspired by an actual World War II diary the author read, it will stand as one of the best novels ever written about one of the most brutal periods in history.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Couldn't Put it Down, May 13, 2008
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
Chris Bohjalian's latest novel, "Skeletons at the Feast" might be his best novel to date, and it can't be a coincidence that it comes out just as Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary.

I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough in this absorbing tale of flight during the end of WWII. Each character becomes important to the reader and each of their fates matter to us. Mr. Bohjalian presents the stories of a variety of players, and through them we see the horrors of war, as well as the horrors of denial; there are Germans, Jews, women from a concentration camp, a Scottish POW, and an innocent child. Questions that these characters would have asked themselves and each other: "How did this happen?" "What were they thinking?" "Why does the world hate us so much?" and "Where did all those Jewish and Polish people we used to know go to?" are asked and answered in this gripping and suspenseful tale.

(Note to the editor: the use of em dashes to set apart long parenthetical clauses was very distracting and interrupted the flow of the narrative. Semi-colons or parentheses would have served better, in my opinion. If this is a specific style of Mr. Bohjalian's I never noticed it being so distracting before.)
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Page Turner, May 8, 2008
By 
Gunta Krasts Voutyras (Clemons, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
A Page Turner
This novel is a narrative. A historically well researched tome. A bird's eye view of the last months of WW II as experienced by a German family. It makes one cry, laugh and be proud to be a member of the human race. A trek on foot, across snowy, frozen Germany in the last months of the war. With dangers lurking behind every tree and inside every barn. A tale of heartbreak, loss, love and resilience of the human spirit.

Gunta Krasts Voutyras
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Filled with haunting characters one comes to care about, July 28, 2008
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
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To be honest, this is my first Bohjalian book. I was interested in the theme dealing with World War Two and the Holocaust, a special interest of mine. I was pleasantly surprised at Mr Bohjalian's ability to capture the sense of those horrific times and bring something new to the table.

The book basically deals with a mish-mash of people during the last days of World War Two - there is the 18-year-old daughter of a staunch Nazi supporter, her mother, younger brother; a Scottish POW; a German Jew disguised as a Nazi who escapes from a cattle train bound for Auschwitz and myriad others. Bohjalian defines these characters so well that I truly came to care about them.

What was unique to me in reading this novel was the grey area between right and wrong - in times of war, what exactly is right and wrong, moral and immoral? Uri the German Jew kills in order that he may survive, and is that wrong? We have good Germans and utterly deplorable ones, and many other memorable characters that make us truly ponder on the effects of war on the human psyche.

With its moral ambiguities and complex characters, this makes for a troubling yet riveting read and I look forward to getting acquianted with Mr Bohjalian's other works.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, July 16, 2008
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
I greatly admired Bohjalian's novels Midwives and The Double Bind. He has a very literary style and I find his writing to be very lyrical and beautiful, not to mention that his subject matter is innovative and thought-provoking. When I heard that he had a new novel coming, I knew immediately that I wanted to read it.

Though the two previous Bohjalian novels I had read dealt with quite diverse subject matter, this novel still came as a surprise. For as well as Bohjalian writes contemporary fiction, though, this work of historical fiction is even stronger. It's obvious that he did a great deal of research on the subject and his imagery is extremely vivid and graphic to the point that it is, at times, hard to read. This is not to say that the violence is gratuitous because it isn't. Bohjalian writes these scenes very matter-of-factly, which gives them all the more impact. Though this novel is fictional, what the characters face is based on facts and it is painful to imagine experiencing the things his characters experience.

Set in the waning days of World War II, Bohjalian tells the novel from several points of view. On one hand is the Emmerich family, landed gentry who are caught up in the Nazi regime. Though not entirely comfortable with this regime, the family is largely ignorant of the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by it. Bohjalian does an excellent job of portraying what many typical German citizens of the time probably experienced. It is very powerful to see how, once knowledge dawns, the characters begin to realize that the monumental crimes committed will long be their homeland's legacy.

The novel also introduces us to Callum, a Scottish POW who is sent to work the Emmerich family farm. His relationship with the family is complex. It would have been easy for him to classify them as heartless Nazis but he sees what type of people they are and how they have blindly trusted their leaders. Still, Callum is perhaps the least developed of all the characters.

The characters that resonated the most for me were that of Cecile and Uri. A Jewish woman captured in her homeland of France, Cecile is sent to a forced labor camp. Bohjalian provides many stark details of the deprivations and torture of these women as they labor and then march, their German tormentors leading them away from the invading Russian army. Uri is also a Jew but has spent the last two years changing his identity multiple times. In order to survive, he passes himself off as various German officers and even as a Russian. Uri's incredulity at the depth of the Nazis' hatred for the Jews resonates strongly and it is every bit as baffling for the reader to understand why, when faced with certain defeat, the Nazis continued to expend a lot of time and effort in their quest to exterminate an entire race of people.

Perhaps the strongest point of the novel is that all of Bohjalian's characters suffer. In fact, suffering is presented as a universal human condition and none of his characters are exempt, no matter their nationality or religious affiliation. It is indisputable that some suffer more than others but what is most striking about the novel is what it has to say about the human capacity for brutality against other humans--and the human capacity for love. The novel also contains a theme that could be called karma, for past actions come to haunt each of the characters in very serious ways.

This is a stellar novel from a very gifted writer, a writer who may just be one of the most talented American authors alive today. It is a profound, moving, and troubling novel that shows only too well how history does, in fact, repeat itself. One need only look at news of what is happening in the Sudan for proof.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How could they not know..., February 15, 2010
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast: A Novel (Paperback)
... about the brutality by their army and the SS, and what was being done to the Jews?

This fundamental moral question underlies and drives Chris Bohjalian's novel SKELETONS AT THE FEAST. His story, inspired by the diaries of one such unaware German, focuses on a wealthy farming family in Eastern Prussia, and their lives during the last months of World War II. When we meet them, husband Rolf and middle son Helmut are about to follow oldest son Werner into the fight against the Soviet army, while "Mutti", the familiar form for 'mother', her daughter Anna and young Theo pack the wagons and saddle the horses to trek west ahead of the Soviets, whose reputation has spread fear among the local German population. With the women travels Callum, a Scottish paratrooper, now POW-labourer at the estate. The description of their months of travel among an increasingly desolate stream of refugees, the many dramas and near-escapes they endure form the largest part of the novel. It is contrasted with two other narrative streams that, the reader assumes from the beginning, will overlap, if not merge, eventually. The first is Uri's story, a German Jew who, like a chameleon has defied detection by the Nazis and the Wehrmacht, the second is that of Celine, a French Jew who with hundreds of others has to suffer on one of the "death marches" as she is moved from one concentration camp to another . All these threads make for an action-packed, fast moving novel that does not shy away from describing the brutality of war in its gory details. The impact is softened by the depiction of human kindness, friendship, and, yes, romance... Does the book add anything new to the flood of Holocaust and World War II novels? Yes and no is the short answer.

Bohjalian's exploration of a less well-known perspective - i.e. that of the "I didn't know..." ignorant German - on the brutal and devastating historical facts of the Nazi regime and the author's attempts to epitomize his protagonists' (ever so slow and reluctant) learning curve is laudable. It will be up to each reader to decide whether he succeeds in this objective and it will depend, to some degree on our individual experience and personal knowledge of that time and its aftermaths.

Having delved deeply into the same fundamental questions while growing up in post-war Germany, I am faced with a dilemma with this novel. On the one hand, I find the general handling of the overall theme and depiction of the historical reality accomplished, clearly based on solid research by the author. On the other hand, however, the main characters feel incomplete and two-dimensional. For me, Mutti's and Anna's growing awareness of their own countrymen's brutality does not come across in a convincing way and the impact of the information as shocking as it should have been. Mutti, in particular, rarely emerges from her taciturn background role, although she could easily have been at the centre of the developments. This being my first novel by Bohjalian, I cannot compare style or plot and character development with other works.

In the real world, some aspects of the story would be highly unlikely and even within the fictional reality of the novel they don't quite hang together. The author packs many historical details into the narrative, such as the dramatic sinking of a refugee ship in the Baltic by the Allies, the bombing of Dresden and much more. While intended to illustrate the reactions of his German protagonists, it tends instead to give the impression of action overload to the detriment of character depth. Some situations seem to me too melodramatic, too many coincidences are too convenient to be realistic and, especially, Uri's multiple transformations and escapes lack some level of credibility. On the other hand, Uri's actions raise important questions about his own moral fundamentals. The most convincing and authentic - and most heart wrenching - narrative stream concerns Cecile and her co-prisoners. Yet, her story is only tangentially connected to the main thread, leaving questions as to why it is there in the first place. [Friederike Knabe]
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome read, May 7, 2008
By 
Paula Hess (Iowa United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
Once again I have found a keeper from Mr Bohjalian. This is WWII historical fiction at it's best. Finally the end of the war is coming and this is the story of just a few of the many with a heart wrenching story to tell. I was grabbed from the first few pages and was never let down from there. A strong story about the dehumanization of war and the resiliency of the human spirit. A must read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable..., July 1, 2008
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
Chris Bohjalian rebounds after a somewhat disappointing THE DOUBLE BIND with SKELETONS AT THE FEAST, a beautifully written, unforgettable story of survival during the last days of World War II.

While on the surface, the book seems a bit atypical for Bohjalian, he incorporates a great deal of the types of themes he has used in other books (love, family) and does so quite effectively by creating such rich, well-defined, intriguing characters.

This is a dark story, but there is hope in it. Yes, there are some disturbing things in this book, but these things are written to bring to life the true horrors of WWII and to give credence to the story. After all, war is not pretty.

Bojalian is one of my favorite authors and I recommend this book highly. If your unfamiliar with his other books, I also recommend THE BUFFALO SOLDIER.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read, June 11, 2008
By 
Dorothy Lear (San Felipe, Baja, Mexico) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
Chris Bohjalian, master of the novel dealing with ethical dilemmas, contemporary controversial topics and social issues, is exploring new territory. Skeletons at the Feast is not an easy read, but it is a very well written, engrossing story.
Europe at the painful end of World War II was at a desperate time for everyone. Nazi soldiers, still trying to fulfill their mission, were recruiting old men from the stream of refugees struggling to escape the approaching Soviet army. Starved and beaten prisoners of the camps held little hope for any future and German families who believed the war would not touch them were learning hard lessons.
Bohjalian has done his research and brought together this disparate group of people in a dynamic work.
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Skeletons at the Feast: A Novel
Skeletons at the Feast: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian (Paperback - February 10, 2009)
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