Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

Bohjalian 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 Inspired by the unpublished diary of a Prussian woman who fled west in 1945, the novel exhumes the ruin of spirit, flesh and faith that accompanied thousands of such desperate journeys.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. 

Below you can find the Twitter discussion of Skeletons at the Feast with author Chris Bohjalian that took place February 25, 2010. Make sure to follow Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook) for more Twtter Book Club book club events!

JewishBook Welcome to the 2nd Twunch and Talk! We are joined by Chris Bohjalian and the book is Skeletons at the Feast. Dont forget to add- #JBCBooks

randomhouse RT @ChrisBohjalian: 5 minutes to the Jewish Book Council twitter discussion of Skeletons at the Feast. Join us!#JBCBooks

JewishBook Join us on twitter by searching for #JBCBooks Chris Bohjalian will be joining us! For more information please visit

ReadItForward RT @ChrisBohjalian: 5 minutes to the Jewish Book Council twitter discussion of Skeletons at the Feast. Join us!#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian And we are twunching. Or tweeting. Thanks for having me. #JBCBooks

JewishBook Hi Chris, thanks for joining us. Lets start with you telling us how you discovered the Diary that was the catalyst for the book?#JBCBooks

stava89 Hi Chris, loved the book, would also like to discuss the perspective of Germans in the book. What kind of research did you do to #JBCBooks

stava89 develop the German characters? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian A neigbor said he had a diary he'd like me to see. I hesitated. The Anne Franks in this world are rare. #JBCBooks

BethFishReads RT @ReadItForward: RT @ChrisBohjalian: 5 minutes to the Jewish Book Council twitter discussion of Skeletons at the Feast. Join us! #JBCBooks

erikadreifus Hi, Chris. Excellent book. Powerful prologue. Did you actually begin writing book w/it, or another part of story?#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian I interviewed Holocaust survivors and Germans who'd been in that corner of Europe in '44 and '45. I read memoirs.#JBCBooks

erikadreifus What inspired the Cecile thread of the story? Was that part of the original diary? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Their stories left me shuddering. It was, in my opinion, the most savage 6 months in human history. #JBCBooks

nycbook What has the reaction been to a Holocaust story that includes a German family's perspective? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian I did begin with the prologue -- and that's rare for me. In Midwives, Kindness, and Double Bind, I wrote the prologue later. #JBCBooks

imabima @ChrisBohjalian do you have any family connection or history with the Holocaust? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian The 2 characters I began with were Cecile and Anna. I wanted Anna to see the Nazi crimes up close, and that meant meeting Cecile. #JBCBooks

JewishBook Are the graphically detailed parts of the stories based on truths, or what you imagined would have happened in those times? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian I hope readers view the novel in part as an examination of the complicity of a German family's complicity in the Holocaust. #JBCBooks

stava89 Uri survives everything except for liberating a group of young Jews. Why did you make the choice? Cld he have lived past the war? #JBCBooks

JewishBook @erikadreifus Agreed! #JBCBooks

erikadreifus So painful to read the violent scenes. What was experience of writing them? More difficult/slower? Work faster to get through? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian I don't have any family connection. But given the magnitude of the crime, I think all people should bear witness.#JBCBooks

BethFishReads I was most taken by fact that it showed personal side of the war; how it would have affected an isolated family. Great perspective #JBCBooks

stava89 Yes--it was incredibly interesting seeing it from a German perspective..what has the reaction been to writing a Holocaust book frm #JBCBooks

stava89 from a sympathetic German perspective? Very interesting!#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Some of the most violent scenes are based on actual events. Others are imagined, such as the prisoners wheeled into the bonfire. #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Okay, spolier: Killing Uri was the hardest thing I have EVER done as a novelist. But. . .#JBCBooks

JewishBook The prisoners into the bonfire was so intense!#JBCBooks

erikadreifus Definitely see family complicity--and yet, death of Theo, treatment of relatives at their home, etc. also terrible.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian SPOILER: But once I knew Rebekah was going to live (which I hadn't anticipated when I began the novel), I knew Uri would die. #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian SPOLIER. And Uri's death drove home the utter randomness and senselessness and savagery of those weeks.#JBCBooks

BethFishReads @ChrisBohjalian OMG killing Uri was awful but I seemed to hold up until I read Epilogue. Then I broke down and cried. Powerful #JBCBooks

stava89 Sigh. That broke my heart. #JBCBooks

nycbook how do you think anna was received by her new neighbors in scotland?#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Just learned: Contractions come out strange. Will watch that! #JBCBooks

erikadreifus Rebekah's appearance definitely a shocker! Kind of wish she could meet Anna and see the baby named for her brother.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Just learned: Contractions come out strange. Will watch that! #JBCBooks

erikadreifus Rebekah's appearance definitely a shocker! Kind of wish she could meet Anna and see the baby named for her brother.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian I hope Anna found a measure of happiness. The reality is that she lost 2 of her 3 brothers, her dad, and her home.#JBCBooks

erikadreifus Oops--SPOILER in my last comment, too. Sorry about that. #JBCBooks

JewishBook Spoilers are ok..its a book club :) #JBCBOoks

erikadreifus What is it like talking about this book while touring for another? #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian And that last sentence may someday be the first of a sequel. #JBCBooks

stava89 I thought the image of the baby at the end of the book was quite interesting. 2 different backgrounds.Jewish name...lots of.#JBCBooks

stava89 interesting identity issues in the book... #JBCBooks

nycbook @ChrisBohjalian that line did make me smile...almost involuntarily :) #JBCBooks

BethFishReads @JewishBook Baby = life goes on . . . #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Ah, the baby. Sometimes a rose is just a rose. Maybe the baby has significance. But maybe it's just a young family in 1948. #JBCBooks

stava89 yes..true! #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Yes. Life does go on. That was, I believe, the title the diarist gave to her unpublished diary. #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Now, 1 more thing about the baby. Perhaps he too will be a part of a sequel. How else to link Rebekah and Anna and Callum? Hmmmm #JBCBooks

stava89 Wl any of these Holocaust books, it's interesting to see what war justifies (e.g., uri killing pre-emptively in self defense#JBCBooks

nycbook ooh! sequel? #JBCBooks

erikadreifus Re: the baby. Also, sometimes, life somehow emerges from war/destruction/etc. Had Callum/UK not had to go to war against Germany...#JBCBooks20 minutes ago from web

ChrisBohjalian Yes, stava89, I agree. Recall Anna's thoughts when the Russians spare her in the barn. #JBCBooks19 minutes ago from web

erikadreifus @stava89 Re: what is justified. Great point.#JBCBooks19 minutes ago from web

nycbook was it hard writing about the Emmerichs suffering then switching to Cecile? Obv they lost alot, but somehow not quite conc. camp #JBCBooks18 minutes ago from web 

RichRennicks @ChrisBohjalian A sequel would be wonderful. Skeletons is one of my favorite of your books. #JBCBooks16 minutes ago from web

ChrisBohjalian Hi, nycbook. The Emmerichs' suffering was, perhaps, retribution. Think Theo. Senseless, horrible. But different from Cecile's. #JBCBooks16 minutes ago from web

ChrisBohjalian I do view Anna and Cecile as the centers of the novel. #JBCBooks15 minutes ago from web

ChrisBohjalian Thank you, Rich. It may be my favorite of my books.#JBCBooks14 minutes ago from web

nycbook do you think Helmut and Werner shared the family's ignorance and wariness about Hitler? #JBCBooks13 minutes ago from web

BethFishReads @ChrisBohjalian It was definitely one of my top reads from 2009 and one that I've suggested to many people.#JBCBooks13 minutes ago from TweetDeck

ChrisBohjalian Thank you, BethFishReads! I am so grateful!#JBCBooks12 minutes ago from web

JewishBook Where does the title come from? What does it mean to you? #JBCBooks12 minutes ago from web

ChrisBohjalian The different Emmerichs had different levels of ignorance and wariness. Mutti was much less wary than her husband. As for the sons #JBCBooks

nycbook but she may have been much more ignorant #JBCBooks

BethFishReads I'm interested in the title too. #JBCBooks

BethFishReads I'm interested in the title too. #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian My sense is that Helmut was indoctrinated. He was young and some studies show that the young were more "Nazi" than the eldery. #JBCBooks

erikadreifus @nycbook re: Mutti's ignorance. Excellent point.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian The title comes from the scene when Helmut and Rolf try and fail yo convince Anna's uncle to leave. More. . .#JBCBooks

erikadreifus Maybe not ignorant--I seem to recall she was educated?--but simply not tuned in to political realities.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian I like the way the title is open to interpretation, and I have heard many interpretations. Here are 4. #JBCBook

ChrisBohjalian 1: It is a reference to the Holocaust. #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian 2. It is a reference to Cecile and the other prisoners.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian 3. It is reference to the traveling party of Uri and Anna and Callum. #JBCBook

ChrisBohjalian 4. It is an anti-war reference. #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Either not tuned into political realities. . .or turning a blind eyes. #JBCBooks

BethFishReads @ChrisBohjalian Title is expression I was not familiar with. Just ran across "ghost" at the feast yesterday in a bk set in Ireland #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian Ghost at the feast! Interesting. I discuss the title at length in an afterward series of questions in the paperback.#JBCBook

erikadreifus @ChrisBohjalian Yes, perhaps that, too--the blind eye.#JBCBooks

stava89 oh very interesting! Re: title really is open to so many possibilities #JBCBooks

BethFishReads @ChrisBohjalian Reference was similar to someone wishing to be a fly on the wall (eavesdropping)#JBCBooks

nycbook amazing image...all these people who are hungry facing a table of food...maybe unable to eat #JBCBooks

JewishBook That's all the time we have for today, thanks Chris and everyone for joining us. Chk out Chris's #JBCBooks

BethFishReads @ChrisBohjalian I'll have to pick up the paperback.#JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian This is great fun and I thank you all. Any last questions? Happy to answer them. #JBCBooks

JewishBook Please feel free to stay and continue the conversation and you can always reference back to it by searching #JBCBooks

erikadreifus Thanks @JewishBook and @ChrisBohjalian for organizing/leading. Nice to "tweet" w/everyone! #JBCBooks

ChrisBohjalian And I thank all of you!!!!!!! #JBCBooks