Kessler, Alan S. “The Butcher”, Black Rose Writing, 2019.
A Post-Apocalyptic World
I am really not much of a science-fiction reader but I became totally swept up in “The Butcher’; so much so that I read the book straight through. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where are only two seasons, Spring which is hot and Summer which is boiling. The master race is led by the Butcher whose followers celebrate Butcher Bargain Day with the ritual slaughter of pigs. The Butcher has a plan of extermination with the pigs being killed first and the Burners next. Mikkel was raised by a high Party member who hid who he really is from him and now he is a teenager and a loyal member of the racially pure Scouts… until his secret is uncovered.
If something sounds familiar to you then you see that this is more than just a story. Early on we see the allegory of Hitler and the Third Reich. The ruling class are truly concerned with the purity of their positions and what drives this feeling is that the Butcher, their leader who wants to totally eliminate the Burners, those who are not members of the upper class. Reminiscent of the ghettoes of Europe during the Nazi reign, he has these people live in specified areas and he has even gone so far as to have built an automated slaughter house not just for the purpose of ‘killing pigs’ but also for the elimination of the ‘Burners’. The Burners were once the upper class but were overthrown by the Butcher who is intent on their elimination. Feeling there is nothing that they can do, the Burners seems to passively accept their fate and control as they await for their messiah to come for them. Mikkel is born from the racially pure class but physically he looks like a Burner. He has a sickness that allows him to see visions.
I had a bit of a rough time getting into the plot at first but that is probably because of the similarities to the Holocaust. I have been working on a course for next semester on an aspect of the Holocaust and I was sure that I really wanted to read this kind of fiction. However, as I said earlier once I found my way into the story there was no stopping. This is perhaps because I felt as if I were there and not just reading about what was going on. It did not take long for me to realize that the Butcher’s plan was to perform first the ritual slaughter of pigs and the Burners next. Raised by a high Party member who hid the child’s origin, Mikkel, now a teen, is a loyal member of the racially pure Scouts—until his secret is exposed.
Climate change is responsible for the changes here. There is a note of hope here in that we are moving past tribalism and searching for some kind of way to survive and eschew hate and fear. If we can see and accept our common humanity, we can do away with racism and the hate that is part of it. Unfortunately, it seems that there will always be an “other”. How we positively deal with this “other” is a reflection that we are all the same.
“The Butcher” also looks at what it takes for people to become involved in a dangerous group that threatens to wreak havoc on the status quo. The alternative here seems to be coming together in tribes and we see the good and the bad of that. “The Butcher” turns society on end so that it is not recognizable as it becomes more and more threatening. What makes this such a relevant read in the age of fake news is just that. For whatever reason, we seem to be unable to let go of what was and then make today our own. We see no subtlety here bit then there was no subtlety during the genocide of the Jews. I did something I usually do not do and read some other reviews to see if what I thought I was reading was how others felt as they read and I was glad to see that I was correct in my thoughts. However, there were reviews that did not concentrate as much on the plot as they did on finding reasons not to like the book. Because it is difficult to read about a group of people who are unable to protect themselves against a stronger power, we tend to shy away from stories of this kind. Reading about the Holocaust is not fun but it is important especially now since the few survivors that are left will all be gone soon.
I respect the idea of allegory to make this relevant to readers and especially to young adults. This is a book that needs to be read and talked about. We see all too well what can happen when we sit idly by. Just remember how you felt when you heard the news om the morning after the Presidential election. I am well aware that I did not go into the character of Mikkel and when you read this you will understand why.