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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `You are never to look back or turn back until we are all together again as a family.'
In January 1945, in the waning months of World War II, a small group of people attempt a long and difficult journey. They are attempting to cross the remnants of the Third Reich from the Russian front to reach the British and American lines. Among the group is the Emmerich family: 18 year old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of a Prussian aristocrat, her mother and her...
Published on 22 Jan 2010 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Skeletons At The Feast
In Chris Bohjalian's `Skeletons at the Feast' the war is a huge panoramic backdrop to the novel. This isn't just a book where the war is going on but we don't see much of it bar the odd bomb, here we have the full scale of the horrific events that World War II caused and through the characters we also see it from many different sides.

The main plot runs...
Published on 30 Jan 2009 by Simon Savidge Reads


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `You are never to look back or turn back until we are all together again as a family.', 22 Jan 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
In January 1945, in the waning months of World War II, a small group of people attempt a long and difficult journey. They are attempting to cross the remnants of the Third Reich from the Russian front to reach the British and American lines. Among the group is the Emmerich family: 18 year old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of a Prussian aristocrat, her mother and her brother Theo. Her father and her brother Helmut try to aid their country by resisting the Russians. There is also Callum Finella, a 20 year old prisoner of war who has been working on the family's farm as forced labour, and has become Anna's lover. There is also a 26 year old Wehrmacht corporal they know as Manfred who in reality is a Jewish German (Uri Singer) who has managed to escape a train bound for Auschwitz.

Two of the perspectives that make up this novel are those of the Emmerich family and of Uri Singer. The third perspective is from Cecile Fournier, a French Jew in a labour camp. Cecile's perspective underscores the horrors of the camps and the strength of will that enabled some to survive.

While much of the story is focussed around the Emmerichs, especially Anna, each of the other perspectives adds great depth to the novel. The horror and squalor of war, the unforgiveable atrocities are all part of this story. But ultimately so too is survival and hope for the future.

I read this novel on the recommendation of others. I am glad that I did. This is a beautifully written novel set in a very dark period in our modern history.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great read about a German family fleeing the Russians in WWII, 9 Nov 2014
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
There seems to be no end to new books, both fiction and non-fiction about the Second World War, and I seem to be reading a lot of them. Almost without exception, they are very powerful, well written, and good reads, and mostly from the point of view of Germany and Germans being the enemy. This novel, written by an American, focuses on the disaster the war brought to the people of Germany. Not the SS or the prison guards or Hitler and his entourage. But the average German man, woman and child, whose lives were destroyed. Millions of people throughout Europe were forced to fleel their homes with few belongings and no one to help them. We don't seem to have much writing from the average German person's point of view, having been conditioned to collectively seem them all as the enemy, and all complicit in Hitler's vision and its enactment. It is refreshing to read another side of the terrible story of this war.

This novel tells the story of a wealthy farming family in the part of Germany that bordered with Poland - East Prussia. The advance of the vengeful Russians in 1944 into Germany, with all their brutality and thirst for revenge, led to a mass exodus west from this area in an attempt to reach the Allied lines before the Russians caught up with them. The author has taken the diary of an East Prussian woman who kept a diary from 1920 to 1945, parts of which documented her family's fleeing and turned it into this story.

Eighteen year old Anna is the story's narrator. With her mother, her younger brother Theo, and a Scottish POW, they flee with as much of their belongings, and food for themselves and their four horses. It is winter, the journey is long, cold, dangerous and terrifying. Parallel to this story is that of a young Jewish man, Uri Singer, who managed to escape from a train taking him and his family to Auschwitz. His story of survival may or may not be true, but what he goes through says a lot for the power of the human spirit. A third story line centers on a group of women who are in a labour camp, and the forced march they undertake across Germany to escape the Russians. An equally horrible story of cruelty, hunger, cold and what it takes to keep on living.

It's a great story, well written, brutal in parts, and heartbreaking. In places not nice to read - the author doesn't beat around the bush with the horrors facing the refugees, the terrible winter cold, the daily fight for survival. But maybe I will leave WWII stories alone for a while, and read more uplifting stuff.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 24 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
I Lv Chris Bohjalians novels and this was no exception. The cross cultural experiences of the war were heart rendering.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing, couldn't get this book out of my head!, 5 Feb 2009
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This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
This is a wonderfully written tale of the journey of a group of unlikely 'friends' travelling through Germany at the end of the second world war.A Hitler loving Mum (at least at first), a beautiful German daughter and her sweet brother, a Scottish POW and a Jewish Refugee. The story is extremely hard to swallow at times, very graphic accounts of Torture and death which leaves you feeling distubed and sad but ultimately this is an uplifting account of the human spirit and of love. The love between family, friends, lovers, strangers and of ones own life no matter how desperate it is. Excellent book!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Skeletons At The Feast, 30 Jan 2009
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
In Chris Bohjalian's `Skeletons at the Feast' the war is a huge panoramic backdrop to the novel. This isn't just a book where the war is going on but we don't see much of it bar the odd bomb, here we have the full scale of the horrific events that World War II caused and through the characters we also see it from many different sides.

The main plot runs following 18 year old German Anna Emmerich as she, and her Scottish lover and prisoner of war Callum, take her mother and brother across Germany to get behind the American or British lines and to safety. Their tale is a harrowing one being separated from Anna's elder brother and father as well as their home and belongings from the start. We also follow the story of Uri a Jew who has managed to escape a train to the concentration camps and is stealing the costumes and identity of dead German soldiers as he goes. There is also the tale of Cecile who isn't as lucky and is stuck inside a concentration camp, from all these characters you get to see all the sides of the war.

However there is some liberal use of (what I call Philippa Gregory Complex) hindsight in this novel with parts of the story, such as Anna's mother Mutti who starts the book as a complete Hitler lover becoming worried her country `will be forever remembered for all it did wrong in history'. Though I can understand why an author would want to use the power of hindsight in this case it felt a little forced. Having gotten that small little issue out of the way I have to say I really enjoyed the book, I wouldn't have picked it up in the book shop but I certainly don't regret reading it. Might be a good one for book groups?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding war tale with a heart, 17 Sep 2013
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Having never heard of this writer, I got this on an Amazon recc - well, thank goodness, this is the sort of book publishers don't give us anymore. Outstanding. I could not put it down. And the joy? Oh, at last, a book that does not do the 'All Germans bad All Allies good' bit and they so often do. This feels real, right down to the vicious gunning by British spitfires. And it tells the forgotten tale of misery of the millions who fled from the Russians.

Aristo family flee with pedigree horses and a British POW. The strong mother and daughter are vivid and well-portrayed while having their weaknesses. Side by side runs a story about a Jewish woman on one of the death marches and her bleak struggle in which there are still moments of light. We see their march with all the horrors and sacrifices and the realities of the future before them. Only it isn't unrelentingly bleak, oddly enough.

The writing had one flaw that a writer of this experience should know: too many points of view. We have to handle 8 points of view overall and it is simply too many and so the mind wanders at times and that was avoidable. It almost made me give this 4 stars but I thought it was so good I did not have the heart. It does detract though.

Marvellous. Read it. Do.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but Uninspired, 25 Mar 2013
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
An easy read. The novel is set against the last months of the Third Reich. The Russian advance is accelerating, Germans flee before them, expecting a violent retribution. Through this chaos are force-marched the remaining inmates of concentration camps who are still physically able to move. This period is well covered in many standard histories, Anthony Beevor's Berlin: The Downfall 1945 among the better known and very accessible to the general reader. What can a novel add? The writer has to follow the known facts which, like or not, limit the dramatic imagination. Equally, perhaps it becomes easier to set up a cast of personae who might be typical and take them on a historical tour. So we have Callum, a Scottish POW on a work detail with a Prussian family. In love with Anna, the younger daughter, he stays to help them on their escape from the Red Army. Accompanying them on their travels is Uri, a Jew who jumps off a forced transport. The book also follows Cecile - a Jew from Lyon - in a labour camp. Paths cross, fates intertwine. The brutality of the Gotterdammerung is made clear - German on Jew, Russian on German and German on Russian. But in the end it didn't quite come alive- perhaps I knew the history too well already.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Skeletons at the feast, 9 Jan 2013
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Not the first book I have read about what happened during the war, but the first from a German perspective. I found it quite harrowing in places, but also uplifting. A wonderful read
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A self-loathing would be her companion and cause her to walk with a distracted, disconsolate gaze.", 28 May 2008
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Hardcover)
Expertly interlocking all of the blood and anarchy of the 2nd World War with the very personal experiences of his main protagonists, Chris Bohjalian has written a hellish account of the brutalities inflicted on both Jews and Germans and anyone else who unwittingly gets caught up in the chaos of the battlefield. Although somewhat of a departure for Bohjalian who has spent much of his writing career dealing with social issues on the home front, here he brings to life with an almost cinematic furor, the waning months of the Nazi empire even as he hones in on one German family who have become unintentionally swept up in the tide of history.

The aristocratic Emmerichs have lived a privileged life on their estate in East Prussia, always resenting the fact that their land was succeeded to the Poles. Hitler had certainly changed this, with the family matriarch Irmgard "Mutti" venerating Germany's new leader for liberating them from Polish governance. But now with the Reich threatening to collapse around them and with the Russians, considered the juggarnaught of barbarians, advancing from the East, this family is forced to flea, embarking on a desperate trek across the whole of the Reich in order to reach the presumed safety of the British or the American lines.

Patriarch Rolf Emmerich and eldest son Helmut leave to join the Germans, even as Helmet is too young and brash to understand for certain that he might die if he joins the fight against the Russians. Staying behind to make the trek is the eighteen-year-old Anna who together with Mutti and the younger brother Leo is left in the care of the twenty-year old POW, a giant Scotsman, by the name of Callum Finella, sent to the Emmerich family estate from the prison camp just outside of Thorn to help with the harvest.

Although Rolf and Helmut disapprove of Callum's affair with the naïve young Anna, they hope that the Scottish Paratrooper will be their goodwill ambassador, their currency and their proof that they're not "your run of the mill Nazis." As Anna, Mutti Leo and Callum embark on their dangerous march, ducking and weaving as they hear the shriek of yet another approaching Soviet shell, their travail is tempered by the lovely Mutti, a sweet lady with fortitude and courage who shoulders much of the emotional burden of their plight.

Meanwhile, the war effort goes on, and even with the Russians approaching, the killing in the concentration camps moves ahead at full steam along with the accompanying evacuations from the Jewish enclaves in the towns deep in Eastern Poland. The young Jew Uri Singer is deported for a concentration camp, spending nearly three days in a cattle car before he escapes. Determined to find his sister, he hurls himself along with a slop bucket out the door on one balmy night when the opportunity suddenly presents itself.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching story in this tale of survival is the two young French Jewish girls, Cecilia and her friend Jeanne. Considered to be expendable slave labor they are marched from their concentration camp, desperately trying to avoid a certain death, all the while struggling to find a memory they could share that no one would associate with want and sadness and loss. Along with the other girls, they spend much of their lives on the edge, terrified of the German guards who could at any moment fire a shot into the back of anyone's skull because a prisoner could no longer stand.

Metaphorically all these characters are like skeletons heading towards their feast, trapped in their battle for survival even as the pace of death never seems to slow. Author Chris Bohjalian gives us a real sense of all the death and destruction, the sounds of screams and the missiles and the diving airplanes, while also giving us a truly cinematic picture of the rivers of refugees heading West, old people young children and crippled soldiers, surging forward with all of their household possessions in ramshackle carts.

Each character carries his or her share of burdens: Callum who accompanies the Emmerichs always fears he will simply be shot on the spot as an escaped POW; Uri is determined to act out one final repayment for the deaths he had witnessed in the cattle car and the myriad afflictions and indignities he had endured for about as long as he could remember; and Anna is torn between what is wrong, the reality that her Callum is a prisoner, and that she's violating her family's trust by inviting him into her house - and her bed.

This novel is a blinding testimony to all the cruelty and barbarism during these years, but what makes this story so unique is its haunting perspective of telling the story from the distinctively German point of view, embedding the War deep within the lives of the Emmerichs and making them as equally compassionate. My only problem with this book is that Bohjalian tends to "telegraph" a bit too much in the middle section, consequently the constant switching back and forth between events from Anna and Callum, to Uri and then to Cecilia slows the pace a bit and comes across as a bit contrived. The author, however is always relentless in his refusal to shy away from the carnage committed by the both Nazis and the Soviets.

Although most of the major players in this drama end up exhausted by their experiences, they are also often grateful for the small acts of kindness amidst all of this stunning atrocity. In the end, this tale shows that war can really bring forth the courage of people and their impossible goodness, and we see this repeated over and over again as this powerful novel moves towards its inevitable conclusion in a world that seems to have gone mad. Mike Leonard May 08.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a struggle, 23 May 2011
By 
Lindymck (Falkirk, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Skeletons at the Feast (Paperback)
picked this one up in the library as sounded interesting. was quite a struggle to get through it as found the pace quite slow and there isnt much in the way of a plot. having studied german at uni many of the subjects discussed in the book was already familar with.
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Skeletons at the Feast
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian (Paperback - 6 April 2009)
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