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Skeletons at the Feast


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ISBN13: 9780307394958
ISBN10: 0307394956
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Do you know-or are you yourself-a veteran of World War II? Discuss what you know of the war and any reminiscences that veterans may have shared.

2. Both of Annas parents are members of the Nazi Party-though it is clear that they are not die-hard believers. Living on their farm in rural Prussia, they are largely sheltered from the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews. As Germans, do you think they share responsibility for the Nazis actions even if they didnt know the full extent of what was happening? Why did they join the party? Did they have a choice? Consider Helmuts teacher who questions the boy about his fathers loyalty to Hitler and the consequences of resisting. If failure to join meant death for you, what would you have done?

3. A group of POWs is brought to the Emmerich familys farm to help with the harvest, including a Scot named Callum Finella. He and Anna fall in love. What brings them together? Does the kindness of the Emmerich family, and Callums love for their only daughter, change his view of the German people as a whole?

4. We meet Uri on the train to Auschwitz. What kind of man is he? How does he behave on the train? Imagine yourself in those deplorable conditions. Do you think you would seize the opportunity for freedom and jump as Uri did, leaving behind your family to an uncertain future?

5. While arguing with Anna about what is really happening to Jews, Callum says, “Suppose my government in England just decided to ‘resettle the Catholics-to take away their homes, their animals, their possessions, and just send them away?” What if this was happening where you live? What actions would you be willing to take to protect your friends and neighbors? At what point would the risks have been too great?

6. To survive, Uri impersonates a German soldier, stealing papers and uniforms from soldiers he either kills or finds dead. Discuss the events that lead up to his first killing of a Nazi. Discuss his reaction to what he has done (page 59). Do you believe his actions were warranted?

7. Although the world is essentially collapsing around them, Anna and Callum fall in love, Theo cries over leaving his beloved horse behind, and Mutti carefully drapes the furniture in sheets to protect it before they flee their home ahead of the Russians. What do these simple, ordinary actions reveal about them as people? About the human capacity for hope?

8. Theo is only a child but he feels lacking in comparison to his older brothers Werner and Helmut, both off fighting in the war. What kind of child is he? Does he fit in with his peers? Why doesnt Theo tell his mother about his foot? What does this reveal about him? Does Theo change over the course of the novel?

9. Describe Cecile. What kind of woman is she? What keeps her going in spite of the cruelty and degradation she suffers every day? How is she different from her friend Jeanne? Do you think you would act more like Cecile or Jeanne in the same circumstances?

10. In Chapter Eight, Helmut and his father, Rolf, try to convince Uncle Karl to leave his home along with the Emmerichs. He refuses, keeping his daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson with him in spite of the danger. Why wont he evacuate? Why wont he let the women and the child leave? On page 118 he refers to them and their way of life as “skeletons at the feast.” What does he mean by this?

11. Describe the circumstances that bring Uri and the Emmerichs together. Why does he choose to stay with them after running alone for so long? How does he feel about them initially? How do his feelings for them change?

12. On page 178, Callum is thinking about bringing Anna home with him to Scotland after the war. How does he think she will be received? Why is he troubled?

13. During their long march from the prison camp to the factory, Jeanne and another prisoner find soldiers rations and eat them. They do not wake Cecile to share them with her. Why? In the same circumstances, what would you have done?

14. Given the odds of success, would you have been brave enough to attempt to escape with Cecile and her friends?

15. Describe Mutti. What was she like at the beginning of the war? At the end? What does she view as her primary responsibility? On pages 291—293, she remembers burying the young German pilot whose plane crashed in her park. Why was burying him-and the enemy Russian soldiers-important to her?

16. How does Anna change as the novel progresses? Why does she feel the need for personal forgiveness at the end? Is she right to feel guilty?

17. Discuss the importance of hope in survival. Which character is the most hopeful? Which character is the most defeated? What moments at the end of the novel symbolize hope most poignantly?

18. Discuss the legacy that Muttis generation left for Annas. As a nation, what kind of legacy are we leaving for our children?

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Beth F, January 3, 2010 (view all comments by Beth F)
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian belongs at the top of any list of World War II novels. This is not a story of politics, of war strategy, or of Hitler. This is a story of human beings, of terror, of unspeakable horrors, of naïveté, of survival, and even of love.

Only when war is shrunk to the individual level, to what happens to civilians, can those of us who have been spared firsthand experience begin to get the mere glimpse of such a world. We wonder about our own strength, our own skills, and our own survival instincts.

Anna, Callum, Cecile, Uri, and the other inhabitants of Bohjalian's novel are not characters, they are people. Each with a history that has informed the choices he or she makes during the last months of the war in Europe. We get to know these men and women, their dreams, their memories, their scars. We cannot forget them.

It is impossible to read the epilogue without sobbing—not so much because of what does or does not happen to the characters in a book but because of the sheer emotional impact of the story. Because we think of our fathers who were there as soldiers, our relatives who escaped or not, and our friends who live in phoenix cities throughout the Continent.
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Krista Smith-Moroziuk, April 14, 2009 (view all comments by Krista Smith-Moroziuk)
This is a haunting book whose images stay with you for days. It is nice to read about WWII from a different perspective. The story line is so engrossing that you do not want to put it down.
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Product Details

Bohjalian, Chris
Shaye Areheart Books
Chris Bohjalian
Bohjalian, Chris A.
Chris Bohjalian
World war, 1939-1945
Jews -- Germany.
Air pilots, Military
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.48x6.80x1.39 in. 1.57 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Skeletons at the Feast Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Shaye Areheart Books - English 9780307394958 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In his 12th novel, Bohjalian (The Double Bind) paints the brutal landscape of Nazi Germany as German refugees struggle westward ahead of the advancing Russian army. Inspired by the unpublished diary of a Prussian woman who fled west in 1945, the novel exhumes the ruin of spirit, flesh and faith that accompanied thousands of such desperate journeys. Prussian aristocrat Rolf Emmerich and his two elder sons are sent into battle, while his wife flees with their other children and a Scottish POW who has been working on their estate. Before long, they meet up with Uri Singer, a Jewish escapee from an Auschwitz-bound train, who becomes the group's protector. In a parallel story line, hundreds of Jewish women shuffle west on a gruesome death march from a concentration camp. Bohjalian presents the difficulties confronting both sets of travelers with carefully researched detail and an unflinching eye, but he blinks when creating the Emmerichs, painting them as untainted by either their privileged status, their indoctrination by the Nazi Party or their adoration of Hitler. Although most of the characters lack complexity, Bohjalian's well-chosen descriptions capture the anguish of a tragic era and the dehumanizing desolation wrought by war." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Bohjalian proves once again that he is a master novelist."
"Review" by , "The Double Bind is simply one of the best written, most compelling, artfully woven novels to grace bookshelves in years. Immediately after the spellbinding surprise ending, readers will want to begin again at the first page. It's THAT good."
"Review" by , "Bohjalian beautifully captures those dizzying moments that follow a tragedy, when disbelief and horror give way to an attempt to understand what has happened...authentic...haunting....In Before You Know Kindness, our eyes are opened to the possibility of redemption, even in these careless times."
"Review" by , "Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power."
"Review" by , "Bohjalian [is] America's answer to Joanna Trollope."
"Review" by , "Bohjalian takes a fresh perspective and details the brutal realities of World War II in a novel that for once does not focus entirely on the Allies."
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