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THE SINS OF THE FATHER by Allan Massie

THE SINS OF THE FATHER

By Allan Massie

Pub Date: July 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-88184-849-2

 Specializing in giving real people and events a light fictional touch-up, veteran British writer Massie (Let the Emperor Speak, 1987, etc.) now examines the destructive legacy of an Eichmann-like character and a Holocaust survivor, whose children meet, marry, and part. Concerned with the ends of things and the inescapable consequences of acts, this is one of those rare novels that would be improved by starting at the end--when the protagonists' tragic lives could be better understood by returning to the past. Instead, Massie introduces the two star-crossed lovers, Becky and Franz, just after they've declared their love, and goes on from there. Both live in Buenos Aires, where Becky's father, Eli, a Holocaust survivor, had come to teach economics but, now blind, spends his days listening to music. Franz lives with his mother and her Argentinean husband but sees his own father, the enigmatic Rudi Schmidt, an engineer, whenever he's in town. When the two families meet, Eli recognizes Rudi's voice; and though he gives his permission for the couple to marry, he takes actions that will ultimately destroy them. While Rudi turns out to be a prominent Nazi, wanted by the Israelis, Eli's background is not unblemished either. A famous economist, he had worked under the Nazis and, though sent to Auschwitz, had refused to go to Israel when released because, fearing commitment, ``I set myself up as a judge of right and wrong, even as a judge over Israel.'' The lovers travel to Israel for the trial, listen to the damning testimony, and are overwhelmed by their conflicting emotions. In the novel's second part, a new narrator details at a clip the couple's downward spiral into depression and tragedy. The sins of the fathers are indeed visited with a vengeance more plot- than character-driven, and, despite some good things, there are too many convenient coincidences and too much pretentious analysis for the big questions raised.