Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Change for Bohjalian?

That's what I initially thought as I began listening to Skeletons at the Feast, a novel that, at first glance, seems to be unlike any of Chris Bohjalian's previous work. Think Midwives or Before You Know Kindness, book discussion favorites revolving around contemporary issues. Bohjalian is a favorite of mine because he so deftly illustrates the vast gray area present in moral ambiguities.

So I was surprised to read that he had written an historical novel of the second world war, a time that has always fascinated me, but that seems like it's been done, and done and done. Still, this tale of two German families, one Jewish, one Christian, both being forced by differing circumstances to march through that brutal winter of 1944-45, got to me. One family is fleeing the Russian invasion, the other is being led to the extermination camps, yet their experiences scarcely differ in the senseless, mind-numbing cruelty and the astounding acts of kindness and sacrifce that they witness. Herein lies the crux of all Bohjalian's work. What a great discussion this will be.
A Scottish prisoner of war, a Jewish escapee wearing a Nazi officer's uniform, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood trying to make sense of the suffering she sees around her, while another young woman, raised in a Hitler-worshipping, anti-Semitic household, all travel together seeking safe haven. When news of the allied bombing of Dresden comes through on a Wehrmacht officer's radio, we are led to understand that his two little sisters are somewhere in the burning city. Can we readers justify in any way the destruction of this historically remarkable city? Can we say that the Germans "brought this on themselves?" From the beginning of time good people have commited evil acts in the name of war. Talk will inevitably shift to our current miasma in Iraq. Will it ever change? Does discussing it help? I don't know the answer but I understand that our writers must keep telling their stories.

An explanation to my regular readers may be in order. I felt that I should delete a section of my last post that described a new novel I reviewed for Library Journal. Since that review has yet to be published (look for it in the August 1st issue, I hope), I worried that I may have said too much about the book in advance of the review that is exclusive to LJ. I will be adding it back in at a later date.

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who reads and comments on my rambling thoughts about books. I'm so happy that I have some new readers, family members and friends that I didn't even realize were out there plowing through my rather lengthy posts. I'm still waiting for Jessica to show me how to set it up so that I can write just a "catchy" first paragraph and then put a link for those who are patient enough to go on. I will get savvier (is that a word?) I promise.

It's a lovely, rainy afternoon so I'll get back to Ann Patchett's Run and then on the New York Times, my Sunday afternoon treat. If anyone saw Obama's hour long interview on Meet the Press this morning would you let me know if I'm being over-sensitve on Barack's behalf. I had the feeling that Tom Brokaw was practically jumping down O's throat, probably trying to dispel the insane notion that the press is pro Obama. Brokaw really made my angry but, in my opinion, Obama reacted with his usual grace and handled himself beautifully.

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