Saturday, November 22, 2008

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

What to you imagine when you think of the last months of World War II in Europe? The horrific discoveries at the camps? The carpet bombing of Germany? The victorious troops march towards Berlin? Much has been written and filmed of the soldiers (both sides) and Jews (survivors and victims).

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian centers around a different group of characters. The Emmerichs are minor Prussian aristocrats who welcomed their German liberation from Poland at the beginning of the war, but now that the Russians are moving in from the east, they must escape to the west. Eighteen-year-old Anna, her mother, and young brother travel across Germany in the company of Callum, an Irish POW, and Uri, a Jewish survivor/saboteur masquerading as a German officer.

In a parallel plot, the story also follows a group of Jewish women being driven across Germany, also in advance of the Russians, while being alternately starved and forced to work in whatever factories remain.

Over the course of this odyssey, both the characters and the reader experience brutality and hope. Gradually without realizing it, without denying anyone's humanity, the book climaxes with a powerful case for Zionism.

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