January 1945. Prussia. Anna Emmerich, her mother, and her young brother are heading west toward the Americans and British and away from the Russians. Hidden in their horse-drawn wagon is Scots prisoner of war Callum Finella.
Cecile, Jeanne, and the other women in their concentration camp are being forced to walk west. Their guards will put them to work in a factory or at manual labor, wherever the Reich needs them.
Uri Singer has gone by many names and has worn many uniforms since he jumped from the train taking him to Auschwitz. At present he is Manfred and wears a German uniform.
In three separate and converging stories, we learn the personal and individual effects of the war, as truth is revealed to the blind, as hope hovers just out of reach for the desperate, and as good fortune leads to self- accountability.
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian belongs at the top of any list of World War II novels. This is not a story of politics, of war strategy, or of Hitler. This is a story of human beings, of terror, of unspeakable horrors, of naïveté, of survival, and even of love.
Only when war is shrunk to the individual level, to what happens to civilians, can those of us who have been spared firsthand experience begin to get the mere glimpse of such a world. We wonder about our own strength, our own skills, and our own survival instincts.
Anna, Callum, Cecile, Uri, and the other inhabitants of Bohjalian's novel are not characters, they are people. Each with a history that has informed the choices he or she makes during the last months of the war in Europe. We get to know these men and women, their dreams, their memories, their scars. We cannot forget them.
It is impossible to read the epilogue without sobbing—not so much because of what does or does not happen to the characters in a book but because of the sheer emotional impact of the story. Because we think of our fathers who were there as soldiers, our relatives who escaped or not, and our friends who live in phoenix cities throughout the Continent.
I listened to the audiobook edition read by Mark Bramhall. The production and narration were excellent.
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Published by Crown, 2008
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)