Thursday, May 08, 2008

New this Week: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

Though authors are frequently reluctant to talk about where they get their ideas, (“A post office box in Schenectady.”) when discussing his 11th novel, Skeletons at the Feast (Shaye Areheart Books), Chris Bohjalian (The Double Bind, Midwives) has been very forthcoming.

About a decade ago, a friend asked him to read his German grandmother’s newly translated diary. “Usually,” writes Bohjalian, “this sort of request is a novelist’s worst nightmare. Most family histories are dull as toast and badly written.”

But it was a good friend and, in any case, Bohjalian discovered much of the diary to be fascinating reading, including “passages that chronicled 1945 and Eva’s family’s arduous trek west ahead of the Soviet Army -- a journey that was always grueling and often terrifying.” But it didn’t move him to take up the pen.

Eight years later, however, “I read Max Hastings’s history of the last year of the war in Germany, Armageddon, and I was struck by how often the anecdotes in Hasting’s nonfiction account mirrored moments in that diary.” He asked to read that diary again and it was then “that I began to imagine a novel and started to research the period.”

Bohjalian is careful to let us know that Skeletons at the Feast is a fully fictionalized and wholly imagined work. Still it’s lovely hearing about the lightbulb moment for this novel that we’ll be hearing a lot about over the next couple of weeks.



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