Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Pork Butcher - David Hughes


2014 is the anniversary of the outbreak of WW1.  In the UK there will be many instances of remembrance (let us not say the word celebration) of what turned out to be a dreadful time.  My father was too young to fight in that war, too old to be called up for the second, and I have been so lucky to not loose anyone I cared for in a war zone.  But I have been looking out for and starting to read books in this anniversary  year that may tell me a little more about war, and how ordinary people, ordinary soldiers, sailors, airmen felt about the job they had to do.  This novella, of only 123 pages, tells a disquietening tale.

Ernst Kestner, once a soldier in the German army, now terminally ill, has to visit the place that has haunted his life since then and try to make amends by telling his only child, a daughter,  about what happened to him during that time.  For Kestner was part of a massacre at Lascaud-sur-Marn, a small town where, towards the end of WW2, around 700 people were killed on the orders of senior German officers. He had been stationed in a town nearby, and for a short time conducted an affair with the wife of a resistence fighter, coming to her bed whilst her husband was away. 

Kestner tells his daughter a tale she really does not want to hear; and then he tells her he must talk to a Frenchman about it. A confession perhaps?  Why would he want to do that?  And it becomes clear, as this little book comes near to the end, that we all take advantage of what life has on offer at one time or another.  Don't we?

The author died several years ago, and I know nothing about him, but in this little book I did come to understand (or had my understanding confirmed) that human nature is a complex thing and humans are humans, whichever side they fight for.  The 123 pages have no chapters, but there is no stream-of-consciousness in the writing.  It moves along at a fairly fast pace, only divided by paragraphs.  For me it was certainly worth reading.  A lucky find in a second hand bookshop!