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What we have in Pascale Kramer’s “Autopsy of a Father” is a failure to communicate on a familiar and societal level. Set currently in and around St. Etienne in south central France near Lyon, it was a region near the center of the Vichy government during World War II. Not a liberal region, the father, Gabriel, was a liberal journalist, whose defense of two local boys who murdered an immigrant from Comoros, is reviled by his former colleagues, and quietly supported by his neighbors. He is found dead, purportedly a suicide, soon after his estranged daughter and deaf grandson visit him. The daughter, an intellectual and social failure in the eyes of her egotistical and narcissistic father, is divorced from a Balkan Muslim, who unexpectedly shows up for the funeral preparations, along with the father’s controlling ex-wife from a locally superior economic and political class, and her brother. There is some financial issue about a Degas that has gone unaccounted for from the estate.

Death can bring out the worst in families, particularly when it is dysfunctional in life. The lack of communication breeds distrust, and communication feeds the flame.

This short novel starts a little slow, but rapidly becomes a page-turner. Ms. Kramer builds and maintains the tension throughout, with the politics of prejudice being an undercurrent. It indirectly raises the question whether prejudice more easily evolves when one bears the brunt of immigration, then those who unaffectedly theorizes about the impact of immigration on local communities. It is unclear, whether the victim was in France illegally or was an African legally living in predominantly white rural France. It is unclear if he was Muslim as most are. The murder was clearly unprovoked and there is no mention about what impact immigration had on the community, other than the resulting prejudice. These questions are left for the reader.

The prose is in service of the story and character development. A third-party narration, the novel is told from the daughter’s perspective. I have read a number of publications of Bellevue Literary Press. They tend to publish good works.

I recommend this novel.

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