So, I’m really a big fan of Chris Bohjalian’s writing and Skeletons at the Feast is his latest work (2008). I’ve been reading Bohjalian since December 07 when I got hooked on Midwives, which was absolutely spellbinding, and then got into his literary thriller The Double Bind (2007). See the author’s website at http://www.chrisbohjalian.com/. I really love when authors post reading group guides on their web sites, such as Bohjalian does. He also includes a book group guide at the end of each of his books. What I appreciate about this author is that he makes you think and wants you to think.

Skeletons at the Feast  is billed as a love story set in WWII in 1945 just as the war was coming to a close. People were desperate as they learned their support for Hitler was upended and the Russians were coming from one front and the Allied forces from another. This particular story was set in Prussia with Prussican aristocrats who were forced to flee for fear of their lives being lost to the Russians. Main character Anna and her handsome Scottish POW lover and her family leave their beloved agrarian home and the comfortable life of being high on the caste system. Anna’s family always had wealth and power in her hometown village of Kulm on the Vitula River. When the war started and the rumors of the Jewish Holocaust began to spread, Anna’s family closed their ears to the stories. They didn’t think it was possible or that Hitler was up to the horrible autrocities being told. When Anna and her family were forced to live the life of refugees, futiley going from village to village across Poland and Germany, they began to see and experience the truth of the Holocaust. When Anna’s party-member family befriended a Jew in hiding, they had no idea he was a Jew until Uri let his secret be known. Anna and her family were aghast at what her people were doing; they felt deep shame and remorse. They didn’t know how they could have had their heads in the sand for so long. The wool over their eyes. When they ran into and helped a marching line of Jewish women who were so starved and emaciated, they could barely hold themselves up, much less eat a few bites of food or small sips of water. Anna and her family were ashamed and wanted to change their identify.

There’s been a great deal published about WWII lately, both in the form of nonfiction and in historical novels. This has fit in well with my theme of WWII books in the past 2 months. Over my last few posts, I’ve written about several WWII books that impacted me and my historical viewpoint. Bohjalian has done a magnificent job of researching and writing this expertly written story filled with passion, romance, history, cultural awareness, psychological factors, and coursing emotions of pain, shame, love, loss, and hope. This book is loosely based on a diary given to Bohjalian. Initially, Bohjalian was not planning to create a story from this diary, but was struck to do so after reading Max Hasting’s Armageddon (read the author’s acknowledgements for more on this). As a potential writer, I can imagine that to base a story from a diary would be thrilling. This would allow the writer to get inside the heat of the diary keeper and tell either a very similar or a very dissimilar story from the truth. What’s exciting though is there are so many possibilities, such rich character development, interesting and real stories and anecdotes, and the story options have already begun to weave their tale through the real truth-in-time past. I have never kept a diary personally and reading this book has made me reconsider this. In Bird by Bird  (Anne Lamott), the author instructs the beginning writer to practice writing and start by keeping a journal of thoughts and possible story lines, whether from something in the doctor’s office, grocery store, or at work. In The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron, a similar principle is recommended but for slightly different reasons; to prevent the junk in one’s head from circulating and recirculating. These are both interesting concepts to consider. I often think of the “dear diary” types of diaries and am completely turned off from that experience. If I were to keep a diary, I would keep a journal of thoughts and experiences that could turn into an essay or a novel. In a way, this blog is doing a form of that for me. I don’t often write about how I feel at the moment or about what is happening in my life at the moment, but I often remember what I was going through at the time, by revisiting the books I was reading at the time. For example, we can probably all remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series when we were 6 years old, then maybe again at 10, then maybe again at 16, and I can remember each time of reading this series, what I was going through at the time. I was young and innocent at 6. Got an allergic reaction to penicillen when reading this at age 10, and needed to escape to a simpler time when reading at 16. Nancy Pearl has given talks about this concept as well. She used books to escape a difficult childhood, yet when re-reading the books as an adult, the experience was not the same, nor were the moving passages from the past so moving in the present. It’s all about where we are in our lives at any given moment in time.

There is a great young and new field of bibliotherapy that is worth exploring for the potential of helping others in psychological difficulties by using reading and literacy. There are several bits of info about bibliotherapy on the web and I’m looking forward to learning more.

Oh, and for plague fans, there’s a new book about the plague that I’ll be reading soon: The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher. Read the review on Library Journal’s Xpress Reviews for the week of June 24 at http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6572566.html?industryid=47118

Happy Reading and Writing!

Advertisements