Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I listened to the audio version of this book and I thoroughly recommend it for people such as me who spend way too much of their time driving. The reader kept me enthralled and was not intrusive. Some audio books seem to interpret sections differently than I would, but that was not the case here. I love Bohjalian's writing and I believe this version did it justice.
The book is set during the final years of world war II in Europe. It focuses on two groups of people and one individual. These people start out separately, but end up changing each other's lives.
The individual is Uri Singer, a Jewish man who escapes from one of the freight cars used to transport Jews to the camps. He survives by using his wits and a willingness to be ruthless. He kills a German soldier and steals his uniform and papers so he can walk through Germany in an attempt to get to the west and the approaching allies.
Uri comes across a family of refugees also walking west, escaping Poland and the oncoming Soviet army. He joins eighteen year old Anna, her “Mutter”, her ten year old brother, Theo, and Callum, a Scottish POW they are bringing along.
At the same time a group of Jewish women who have been forced into slave labor by the Nazis are being marched to the west, also to avoid the Soviets. These women are exhausted and starving, but if they try to rest they are shot or killed in ways that are even worse. So they keep marching.
There is a wonderful sense of family in other Bohjalian books that is also present here. The Emmerlich family thrived under Hitler, but they are suffering here and through it all they show a sense of decency and love for each other. Uri's focus is often on his sister, Rebecca, and their parents, whom he is certain are dead. And Cecile, a French woman who is one of the Jewish slaves, establishes a family of sorts with the other women, especially Jeanne. This sense of family provides hope throughout the suffering.
The book was exciting enough to keep me coming back. While I was listening I actually enjoyed my commute.
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