THE PORK BUTCHER by David Hughes


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Terminally ill, a recent widower, 64-year-old Ernst Kestner closes up his butcher-shop in Lubeck--and sets out for France, determined to expiate the sins that have haunted him since 1944. First he drives to Paris, where his edgy daughter Tina lives in tense, loveless wedlock with a sarcastic Frenchman. Then, at Kestner's insistence, Tina joins him on a journey to Lascaud-sur-Marn--as, little by little, he confesses the whole story to his half-sympathetic (at best) daughter: the 26-year-old Kestner, a German soldier, fell in love with Jannie, a young married Frenchwoman in Lascaud-sur-Marn, thus betraying his German fianc‚e back home (Tina's future mother); but when the townsfolk were suddenly rounded up for a German vengeance-massacre, Kestner found himself taking part in the shooting/burning atrocities that killed a few hundred men, women, and children. . . including Jannie. So, once they arrive in Lascaud-sur-Marn, Kestner and Tina visit the Museum that memorializes the massacre--and then seek out the town's Mayor, to whom Kestner wishes to make a full confession. As it happens, however, the Mayor is an ambitious politician, a national figure who wants to forget the massacre--because of his dreams of a new France, because he has ""never mastered his distaste for being alive at the expense of his mother, grandparents, a sister. . . he was elsewhere at the time."" And it's only later, when the Mayor's dead sister turns out to be none other than Kestner's beloved Jannie, that old passions are stirred--leading to a fatal accident. . . while Kestner's daughter Tina finds true love at last. Hughes, a British novelist whose fiction hasn't been seen in the US since The Major (1965), does best with the wry, satiric moments here--especially the brief, uneasy scenes involving Kestner, Tina, and Tina's husband. The central portrait of guilt-ridden Kestner, however, remains stiffly one-dimensional. And the exploration of familiar WWII-guilt themes is neither fresh nor fully coherent--with talkiness throughout and an awkward bunching-up of developments in the busy yet ineffectual final pages.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1985
Publisher: Schocken