The Shame of the Fathers: Background information when reading A Killing in Zion

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A Killing in Zion

An Art Oveson Mystery

by Andrew Hunt

A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt X
A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt
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  • Published:
    Sep 2015, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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The Shame of the Fathers

This article relates to A Killing in Zion

Print Review

In A Killing in Zion, Salt Lake City deputy sheriff Art Oveson is charged with apprehending and arresting members of a Mormon fundamentalist sect who commit the crime of polygamy. But fealty to the law is only part of what drives this Mormon's professional zeal. In his more thoughtful moments Oveson has to admit to himself that he has a deeper, more elemental motivation: "…in my more reflective moments, I was willing to concede that my hatred for the [polygamists] was rooted in my inability to come to terms with the lives of my ancestors. Not so long ago, my great-grandparents on both sides engaged in plural marriage, practicing the same custom as the men I now detested."

This is a slightly different twist on the old fashioned notion regarding sins of the father being visited upon the child. Few people today hold children responsible for the behavior of their parents. As cultures — particularly in Western countries — have evolved the prevalent attitude is one of accepting that the past is unchangeable and the human race must move on. In rare instances whole countries have made reparations for the sins of their governmental predecessors to the descendants of certain victims. But bodies politic must deal with the past quite differently from individual human beings searching their genealogical roots.

On a personal level, the whole matter of ancestral misdeeds becomes a singular kind of complicated. Two popular American television shows have brought the issues of unacceptable ancestral behavior to headline-grabbing attention.

Last year actor and advocate of liberal causes Ben Affleck participated in the PBS program, Finding Your Roots, through which it was discovered that there were slave owners in the Affleck family tree going back four or five generations. The revelation might not have been considered a big deal accept that Mr. Affleck was embarrassed enough to ask that the producers exclude this information from the broadcast. Of course, as these things generally go, the request was eventually exposed and the resulting ruckus was likely worse on Affleck's image than the fact of his ancestry. It remains, however, that he in some way felt similar to Art Oveson; conflicted over how to square the circle between past and present morals.

In a similar celebrity genealogy TV series American actress Cynthia Nixon learned that in 1841 her great-great-great grandmother, Martha Curnutt, murdered her abusive husband. Drove an axe through his skull in fact. Ms. Nixon's response was decidedly more sanguine than Affleck's, stating, "I'm sure we'll make many jokes about it in the years to come, about the ax murderess in our family, but I think we will remain in awe of her."

Times, mores, and circumstances change and affect individuals differently. Recent racial issues in the United States have stirred heated controversy over whether, how much and in what way to remember those who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Many of those 19th Century soldiers were slave owners, many were secessionists and others were likely not ideological at all. They just didn't want their lives to change. There are chat rooms full of people who are trying to deal with the 19th century actions of their ancestors in the 21st century. Naturally feelings run the gamut from abject shame to pride to indifference.

Not everyone feels they can easily erase the stain of an errant ancestor from the family tree. Perhaps it's too soon for children and grandchildren of German Nazis to let bygones be bygones. Many, it seems, have changed their names so as not to be linked to more notorious war criminals. Some have done that and more. In a book by author David Gardner (The Last of the Hitlers: The Story of Adolf Hitler's British Nephew and the Amazing Pact to Make Sure His Genes Die Out, BMM, December 8, 2001) descendants of Adolf Hitler's nephew have taken an extra step. The book's blurb states that the, "four sons [of William Patrick Hitler] established a pact that, in order for Adolf Hitler's genes to die with them, none of them would have children."

Perhaps it can be said that we not only stand on the shoulders of our valiant predecessors but we can also be slingshot into the future by the deeds of our ancestral horse thieves and scoundrels.

This "beyond the book article" relates to A Killing in Zion. It first ran in the October 7, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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