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By Horst Stern
Random House, 1993, 155 pages

Horst Stern, a German journalist, novelist, and naturalist now living in Ireland, is best known for his television documentaries addressing environmental and ecological issues. The Last Hunt is a compelling modern-day fable of two aging hunters, a man and a bear, and the inexorable convergence of their destinies.

The story is set in Germany and an unnamed Eastern European country in the mid-1970s. The protagonist is Joop, a 60-year-old financier and influential representative of the World Bank. Aging, divorced, and absorbed by his work, he daydreams about hunting and about his former wife — his last real connections with the pleasures of life. Business takes him to an Eastern European country (presumably Yugoslavia in the final days of Tito's reign) where the authorities, eager to please the German dignitary, arrange a bear hunt for him. His quarry is a large brown bear driven back to its home range by a dam project financed by the World Bank. As the bear returns to the woods he left long ago and Joop revisits the home of his former wife, both are depicted as lonely creatures in the autumn of life returning to find familiar territory changed by the march of time and the progress of civilization. As Joop sets out on the hunt, he is torn by conflicting images from his past, latent environmental sympathies, and a growing identification with his prey. Although he follows through with the kill, he is left a changed man.

The tale is told against the background of a world increasingly driven by political, economic, and technological imperatives. "Behind the words," Stern notes in the opening pages, the story "is true." For instance, he returns again and again to Joop's conflicting loyalties to two models of truth: ecological truth and economic truth. "Intellectually he accepted both," he writes, but "opportunistically he deceived each one with the other." Stern also seems bent on debunking romantic notions, passed down from writers such as Ernest Hemingway, that the hunt somehow restores a man's connection with himself and nature. In a world increasingly concerned with the politics of commerce and development, industry and state power, hunting is merely one of many ways in which human beings despoil their surroundings and the natural world.

[This book was originally published in Germany in 1989 under the title 'Jagdnovelle']

Copyright 1994 by Scott London. All rights reserved.