Book Review of Skeletons at the Feast

Skeletons at the Feast
reviewed on + 14 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 7

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I love WWII fiction and couldn't wait to read it...once I started, I couldn't put it down, it pulled me right along to the end. It's supposed to be quirky, but some of it I just don't buy: Anna's romance with the POW (not the fact that it happened, but they WAY it develops), or the fact that a POW would be able to travel across Germany with a family and never be questioned once. I also found the writing to be all over the place, quite repetitive, and the emotion never subtle. For example: "a stain the color of rotting cherries was waxing imperceptibly into a moon around the crater in the lieutenant's chest." huh? And the love scenes...Anna is a young girl growing up in the thirties? Her gallivanting about unchaperoned with an enemy prisoner, and the extent of their "secret" dalliances: I didn't believe it for a second.

There were two characters I really empathized with: the boy Theo and Uri (Anna and the Scottish prisoner, on the other hand, have the depth of cardboard cutouts). Uri is a Jew who escapes a death train, disguises himself as a German officer, and wreaks havoc on any Nazi he can find--to the extent that his revenge is just as odious as the wrongs he is responding to. His joining up with an aristocratic German family, although unexpected, prompted some of the more interesting character interactions. Uri's presence begs the question of morality, and who is to blame for war crimes: the state? It's citizens? And how much revenge is then justified? By default, Uri's history casts him the only character whose bloody hands are deemed acceptable...but is this *gasp* cliche?

I became rather attached to young Theo, a compassionate boy who loves animals, cares genuinely about people, and is slowly becoming "Nazified" by the culture he is exposed to. One of my favorite scenes was when Theo wrote letters to German soldiers on the front. His innocent chatter tinged with patriotism, and his "heil" sign-offs, is a disturbing reminder of cultural and national influence and control. Should we feel guilty for liking Theo because of what he may be becoming?

The side story of the Jewish women, although illustrating an important part of history that shouldn't be forgotten, didn't mesh well with the rest of the story (because it is still not socially acceptable to write a book about WWII and NOT have a side story about the holocaust. Charlotte Grey by Sebastian Faulks did this too, to similar effect). The subject is heart-wrenching, but I felt it belonged either in it's own book, or needed to be more closely tied to the main action. At any rate, it was thoroughly disturbing...which is not a bad thing.

I liked how the author Mr. Bohjalian used a different viewpoint--that of a German aristocratic family--to show the war from "the other side", a side I'd be interested in reading more about. Overall, a fast paced, gut-wrenching, if a far-fetched and emotionally heavy-handed read.