This is my second review for Simon & Schuster and after the excellent novel by Meg Abbott I was sent I wasn’t sure that a book on World War II would thrill me, in fact in truth part of me thought ‘oh no not another book about the war’ sometimes there just seems to be too many. I should learn though as The Book Their and The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas are absolutely brilliant examples of great World War II books, but then the war is just another character in those novels.
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?