In the last waning days of World War II, Germany was in chaos. Besieged on western front by the Americans and the British and on the eastern front by the Russians, the German people were forced to flee their homes. Cold, hungry, and pushed beyond exhaustion they struggled to keep ahead of the Russian front though and endless winter. What they faced if caught by the Russians, no matter that most were women and young children, was enough for many to craft suicide plans while others would just give up, long beyond caring. Skeletons at the Feast
weaves together four disparate stories during this tragic and violent time in history; the Emmerich family, a prosperous Prussian family forced to abandon their home; Callum, a Scottish POW who had been sent to help work the Emmerich's sugar-beat farm and apple orchards; Uri Singer, a Jewish man who through courage and daring escaped a train headed towards certain death and for two years successfully disguised himself as a Nazi; and Cecile a French Jewess struggling to survive German work camps and forced marches.
This is a bleak and unrelenting portrayal of the Holocaust told through a completely unique perspective. Most of the story is viewed through the eyes of Anna Emmerich, eighteen years old and having lived her whole life in a remote corner of Germany that had for most of her life been ceded to Poland. It is unusual that Bohjalian chose to tell the story through the eyes of a German girl as so often novels regarding this horrific time in history are told through those who suffered the most. Yet the Jews, the Gypsies, and their fellow Nazi victims were not the only people to suffer. The privatizations suffered by Germany's own people as they fled in advance of the Russian advance is an often overlooked piece of history. Their treatment was brutal and no quarter was given for being a civilian, a woman, or a child. The author does not hold back; there are many violent and bloody depictions of rape and murder throughout the novel. It was often difficult to read. Yet none of these scenes felt gratuitous. It was an honest account of what really happened. It serves as a reminder of the cruelty that we humans are capable of, no matter on which side we fight. The epilogue was the single bright source of hope at the end of the novel, a welcome relief after the bleakness of the previous 350 pages. This novel is not for the faint of heart, but it is a must read for any World War II buff.