God forbid. The mere thought verges on taboo. But then again, Aue is all about taboo. Frick and Frack this section also contains spoilers. But, of course, this is a novel, and there has to be some forward motion generated to help the reader slog through the mire of blood and shit.
So the blackout, combined with the whodunnit element, serves as a MacGuffin. In crook stories it is most always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers. They regularly appear in the most improbable situations and places in order to question Aue about the death of his mother and stepfather. Later, they present him with evidence such as the fact that the bloodied clothes found at the crime scene by French police were tailored in Berlin by the same tailor used by Aue.
I, of course, expect something to come of this. And something does: stratospheric irony and burlesque. Then Weser gets hit by a stray Soviet bullet. Aue escapes. Clemens catches up to him. As Clemens is about to mete out justice, Aue is saved yet again as already mentioned by his faithful friend Thomas, all dressed up as a foreign worker and ready to get out of Dodge. Shoah memory-keepers will be up in arms. The rest is optional. Because it has to undermine something. Not even the telling of the story. Aue, too, has had the benefit of reading the memoirs and history books that came out after the war.
He comments on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, with whom he worked. But when a novelistic device intrudes to make you question the plausibility of events, then you might also question your identification with the characters. You might stop caring and read as if the book were a series of cold facts, as in history, or linguistic flourishes, as in poetry. Another novelistic device in The Kindly Ones that undercuts plausibility is how conveniently Aue manages to wind up in so many important places on the Eastern Front and meet with so many of the Nazi hierarchs.
Other readers, I imagine, could use the benefit of a whodunnit element to generate forward motion.
‘The Kindly Ones’ by Jonathan Littell Arouses Passions, for and Against - The New York Times
And who knows, you can also argue that Aue is exactly the type of guy to mythologize his memoirs. All important historical events get mythologized to one degree or another. They understand that over time many educated people will be getting their information about the Final Solution and the events on the Eastern Front exclusively from this book.
The invisibility of evil. With the reference to Greek tragedy, the novel immediately sets up an almost Nietzschian opposition between Greek pagan and Judeo-Christian ethics. In the wake of his conversation, Aue delves into a philosophical reflection about ethics. He touches on the Kant-Hobbes dichotomy as well as the Judeo-Christian view that superceded the Greek. Which brings us to the crux of the book. Stated simply, this is a novel about evil. The subject matter is the most horrific expression of evil in recent history, and certainly the largest ever in terms of sheer numbers.
What separates the Nazis from all other perpetrators of massacres is how they did it so systematically, adapting methods of industrial production to the extermination of a people. They were set apart and set themselves apart. And in Poland and Ukraine they spoke their own language, Yiddish, and even looked very different with their payas forelocks and black gabardines. The same could be said for the Gypsies.
Therefore they are the enemy. Therefore we must rid ourselves of them, destroy them. Duty often involves unpleasant tasks. These abstract considerations are further buried under a mountain of bureaucratic details: reports, enquiries, requests, supplies, statistics, numbers. Efficiency and logistics are crucial. Here the import of the Nazi approach becomes apparent when compared to how the Red Army sought revenge.
Nazi soldiers were not supposed to murder in the heat of the moment. It was unavoidable. Hence the gas trucks, then the gas chambers. The Soviet soldiers, on the other hand, were nowhere near as efficient and rational as the Nazis. Many took revenge on German civilians freely and with gusto. And while there were officers who would rein in their men, there were others who encouraged the slaughter. The Final Solution, and by extension the killing machine it required, sprang from a Frankensteinian ideology that cobbled the ideas of the 18th-century Enlightenment with both the Romanticism and Darwinism of the 19th, then spread the paste over a flimsy veneer of Norse mythological heroism.
The ethical inconsistencies that now seem obvious to us were camouflaged at first by the painstaking reasoning process that went into putting the ideology together, then subsequently by the details involved in implementing it. Aue, the man spoiler in [brackets]. Aue would argue that his main defect stemmed from the fact that he was born German in Otherwise Aue is intelligent, extremely well-spoken, cultured, sensitive, proud, and quite the gentleman in many respects. Aue, and thousands of Germans like him, are only going about their business.
So what is it about Aue that lets me and I assume other readers want to continue spending time with him? Quite simply, his humanity. No, his humanity comes from the fact that he is supremely inadequate. He buries himself in work to stave off that gnawing sensation of inadequacy. The Nazi party and the war have given him a chance to live according to ideals.
Unfortunately, he might just be intelligent and sensitive enough to see through those ideals, so he buries himself in work again, or indulges in romantic reveries. His sexual experiences are usually fleeting encounters with rough trade; one of the few men who can carry on an intellectual conversation a Romanian diplomat , he eventually kills. As far as Una is concerned, they had two incestuous experiences, once as children, just prior to their being split up and sent to separate boarding schools, and another just prior to her getting married; and he pines for her throughout the book as she becomes the star of his unseemly masturbatory fantasies.
Their encounter in Berlin, shortly before he sees his mother in the south of France, is quite moving, worthy of a fine romantic novel. Aue never says it outright, but if you do the math it all works out. However, for long stretches of the book you forget about the sickness. At this point Max feels violent stomach cramps, undoes his pants and squats down, but instead of shit, real live bees, spiders and scorpions gush out his anus. He screams out and then turns his head and sees identical twin young boys staring at him in silence.
TWO: Max is gliding at different levels high up in the sky looking down, almost more like a camera than a human, looking down at a huge city set out on a uniform grid, seeing thousands and thousands of blue-eyed men and women and children, faceless, moving mechanically through birth, growth, adulthood and death creating a perfect equilibrium which reminds Max of what an ideal concentration camp would be like. He recognizes the woman is his sister. She suffers uncontrollable convulsions and diarrhea, black shit oozes through her white dress causing Max to experience great disgust and nausea.
He sits in her chair at her dressing table and then Una carefully makes up his face, combing his hair, applying lipstick. Una then straps on an ebony phallus. After an intense session of intertwining like snakes, Max rests on the floor and says he is her sister and she is her brother to which Una replies that you are my sister and I am your brother. Again, one of the most evil tales ever told. View all 42 comments. Mar 12, Matt rated it it was ok Shelves: historical-fiction. Lugging this gigantic book around, from Omaha to Minneapolis to Dubai to Chicago back to Omaha, I began to question why I was reading it.
In the end, the unasked question - why are you reading this? It's a hot mess, but with aspirations. It's opening line - "Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened" - smacks of Homer. Indeed, right up until the penultimate chapter, I was halfway enjoying it. The novel, told in first person my SS officer Maximilien Aue, attempts to encompass the whole horror of the Holocaust.
Like a sadistic, bloodstained Forrest Gump, Aue bounces from einsatz aktions in the Caucuses there is a grim depiction of the massacre at Babi Yar , to the winter hell of Stalingrad, to the concentration camps of Auschwitz, and finally to Hitler's bunker and the twilight of the gods. I heard of this book by way of its controversy. It was a big hit in France, which should forever lay to rest any lingering belief that the French know anything about art. Here in America, it was severely panned by none other than Michiko Kakutani.
When she described its unsavory elements - murder, incest, sodomy, unrelenting gore - I knew I had to purchase this work immediately. At first, through about pages, I thought the controversy was a whole lot of nothing. Yes, there were some graphic passages, especially dealing with the einsatzkommandos slaughtering thousands of Jews and other undesirables by firing squad.
Yet this is what good historical fiction does: it takes us to that place in time. In this instance, that place and time is unimaginably dark, but that doesn't mean that some light shouldn't be shed. I thought the recreation of the Belorussian slaughter was powerful. I also thought there were some clever moments, as when Aue meets a Caucasian peasant who has been gifted with the ability to have all memories at once.
The peasant leads Aue to the mountain summit where Aue is supposed to kill him. For the most part, though, the book was - and I hate to say the word - dull. Hannah Arendt was right: evil is banal. The book is filled with non-characters. For the most part, though, they remain names, an undifferentiated mass. There is an fascinating bit, here and there, such as a dinner party with Eichmann, or a grouse hunt with Speer, but they are lost in a sea of never-ending crap prose.
There are lengthy, turgid passages on Caucasian languages, and a dense, meandering conversation about the similarities between Bolshevism and Fascism. Also, there are endless mentions of poop. Its smell; Aue's need to evacuate his bowels; detailed descriptions of said evacuation, etc. I've never been exposed to such scatological descriptions, and hope never to be again. Still, nothing too loopy. Sure, Aue is in love with his twin sister, with whom he had an incestuous relationship, but this dark angle is not dwelt upon in relation to how much Aue dwells on poop.
And he also may-or-may-not have killed his mother, but this is just soap-drama. I started to think that Michiko might have been wrong. Where is the sick, depraved stuff that lured me in and just to editorialize a little, I feel that many of these book reviews are very regressive when it comes to sexuality; just because Aue is a homosexual does not make him "deviant"; there is an underlying whiff of homophobia in many of the pans I've read. Then, at page , I came to that chapter. Suffice it to say, it involves a lot of auto-asphyxiation, masturbation, and defecation.
I could've done without that. Moreover, this all occurs while the Russians are encircling Berlin. With the whole nation collapses, Aue manages to get vacation time so he can spend some time with himself. That stretches credulity. In fact, the whole endgame of this enormous book is terrible. Everything falls apart. There isn't a single believable instance Anthony Beevor, I'm surprised at you for suggesting this book! It's not just that Aue is led to Hitler's bunker and does something completely ridiculous, it's that in the final pages, all the main characters somehow meet each other.
The Russians are pouring into the city, bombs are bursting, mortar rounds are exploding, buildings are burning, bullets are whistling, yet everyone manages to come together for a final, bloody denouement. This utter collapse - the same malady affecting The Dark Knight - really ruined things for me.
For as I said, up till that time, this book has a lot of interesting things to offer. There are vivid, nightmarish descriptions that would make Dante proud. There is a strangely beautiful, ghastly scene in which Aue goes swimming in the Volga outside Stalingrad: The swift current created whirlpools that soon carried me away under the ice. All kinds of things were passing by me, which I could clearly make out in this green water: horses whose feet the current was moving as if they were galloping, fat and almost flat fish, bottom-feeders, Russian corpses with swollen faces, entwined in their curious brown capes Above me, the ice formed an opaque screen, but the air lasted in my lungs, I wasn't worried and kept swimming, passing sunken barges full of handsome young men sitting in rows, their weapons still in their hands, little fish threading through their hair agitated by the current.
Then slowly in front of me the water grew lighter, columns of green light plunged down from holes in the ice, became a forest, then melded into each other as the blocks of ice drifted farther apart. Then there are parts of this book that remind me of Team America: World Police.
It's an interesting book, and I mean "interesting" in the Confucian sense. There are incredible moments, some of which I've mentioned, others I can only note in passing, such as gripping scenes set during the bombing of Berlin. There are moments of pure inanity, as Aue - a self-righteous, pretentious, preening gasbag - holds forth on various topics in his grating, solipsistic manner the tragedy of Aue not being able to fornicate with his sister tends to pale next to the murder of 6 million Jews.
Then there are moments of sheer weirdness, such as a dream sequence in which Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, masturbates next to Aue's bed.
I don't know why, though perhaps this could be a thesis topic if I ever go for my PhD in English. I guess the best praise I can give this book is that it got a reaction from me.
Which ain't nothing. View all 6 comments. Jun 24, Violet wells rated it it was ok Shelves: world-war-two , 21st-century , holocaust , historical-fiction. I felt like abandoning this just about every day. At times it irritated me, at others it bored me. My stubborn nature finally won out though and I ploughed through all its pages. It's always going to be an act of hubris to believe you can explain the Nazis. The Kindly Ones purports to offer an insight into the transformation of an ordinary young man into a Nazi monster.
First off, I'm not sure most of us do believe that. We might not believe the scale of the Nazi death machine could be repeated but racial hatred is still a political factor in modern life. Fervent nationalism, a disenfranchised underclass, an economic crisis and a handy racial scapegoat are the first prerequisites for a fascist state.
Many countries are presently vulnerable. There are still plenty of potential Nazis in the world and probably always will be. Nor do I think most of us delude ourselves that we would have actively opposed the Nazis were we living under the terrifying close surveillance of the Gestapo. However, there's a big difference between, for example, turning a blind eye and zealously reporting anyone you don't like to the Gestapo; an even bigger difference between serving as a soldier in the regular army and executing naked women and children by the side of the ditches.
The author however tells us all are equally culpable, that there's no difference between a member of the Einsatzgruppen and the railway worker who changed the tracks for the freight cars. Of course, the Nazis held to a mantra of collective responsibility so, given our narrator is an unrepentant Nazi, we can perhaps forgive him his trite philosophising. But seeing as Littell begins with this idea of collective responsibility you assume he will have as his narrator a kind of everyman who will bear his theory out that we are all potential Nazis.
Before long though we find out our narrator's pivotal childhood memory is of engaging in anal sex with his twin sister at the age of twelve. I stopped here to ask myself how many people there are currently in the world who have known this experience. I concluded less probably than people born with three eyes. Max Hue is like some twisted adolescent fantasy character conceived after immersing oneself in the complete works of the Marquis De Sade.
In fact, twisted sexuality is often a subplot, with the suspicion that the author is implying that Nazism was some kind of symptom of sexual deviation. Max Hue is a closet homosexual; he's also an intellectual and an aesthete. In other words, everything the Nazis loathe. He could hardly be less representative of a typical Nazi. I never once understood why the author chose to make his narrator so preposterously unbelievable. Probably the one thing he did do well for me was to delve into the dissociative ingenuity of the human brain. But dissociative identity disorder was an inevitable consequence of Nazi barbarity rather than, as Littell implies, its cause.
I could have got past this misgiving about the foundations of his central reasoning if the novel hadn't very quickly showed innumerable sins of crude artistry. Strip this book of its reportage, its non-fiction and what remains is a framework of gothic kitsch. A man as a child engages in anal sex with his twin sister, idolises his father for no apparent reason, later murders his mother and stepfather, is pursued throughout the war by a couple of preposterous Keystone cops who are still intent on bringing him to justice when the Russians are advancing down a neighbouring Berlin street.
A whole section is devoted to Aue's sexual fantasies. In a novel of nearly a thousand pages the last thing we need is an endless repetitive cataloguing of all the ways Aue comes up with to desecrate his sister's home. He made his point and then went on making it for forty odd pages.
Then there's the dialogue.
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The dialogue is consistently bad. Even straightforward exchanges are heavy-handed and bereft of fluidity. Often a character is drafted in with an encyclopaedic knowledge of a section's pertinent subject which allows Littell to write long unbroken treatises in the form of thoroughly unconvincing dialogue. There's the feeling the author wants to cram in absolutely everything he's read about the war. The most impressive thing about it for me was the quantity of research that went into its construction. But this is also one of its problems because with its endless lists of SS officials and departments it often reads like a non-fiction book with a kind of Forest Gump narrator who always manages to gatecrash every pivotal moment of Nazi history.
There's little artistry in the way the research is fed into the novel. He's there at the Babi Yar massacres, he turns up at Auschwitz and, of course, he finally makes it to the Hitler bunker. Also, I often found its voyeurism more disturbing than the atrocities themselves. He's been accused of being a pornographer of violence and I'd agree with that and add to it, a pornographer of bodily functions. Another massive problem is the punctuation. I don't think I've ever read a book with such shoddy punctuation. Paragraphs continue on for pages with little rhyme or reason.
Sometimes sentences too. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself how well did this novel succeed in its intention of providing an insight into the Nazi psyche? I'm afraid I didn't buy into Max Hue at all.
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At times you might say it's a brilliantly researched book of non-fiction; every time however the fiction in it asserts itself I kept feeling Littell is a long way from being a first rate novelist. View all 49 comments. So what's the most atrocious thing you've seen? Man, of course! The Kindly Ones polarized both readers and critics all over the world. They argued on its literary values and scandalous content, pornocaust or holokitsch were amongst epithets, felt poised between admiration for the gigantic work Littell done and themes he researched and final product and message it delivered.
The genre itself confounded almost everyone, was it a history novel or quasi document, a literary fiction or fictionalize So what's the most atrocious thing you've seen? The genre itself confounded almost everyone, was it a history novel or quasi document, a literary fiction or fictionalized story?
And autoportrait of Nazi official and aesthete was widely discussed. The novel stuns with verve and panache, bewilders with erudition and literateness, overwhelms with magnitude of information, names and facts. The author had to dig through hundreds of historical documents up. Sometimes effect feels fascinating, especially deliberations on the vision of national socialism or motivations of the narrator of the novel, then again horrifying with descriptions of mass murders or concentration camps, and at times just fatiguing due to neverending reports full of names and military ranks.
It strikes with enormity of violence and cruelty, with graphic depiction of every crime imaginable, and pornographic and scatological content and its matter-of-fact narrative comes almost as a shock. Combining sex with violence, or more precisely sexuality with Nazism is nothing new or original in literature or film. What makes this book unique and shocking, and what sometimes is its the biggest flaw, is the figure of narrator, Maximilian Aue.
To establish a murderer main protagonist, to make us read his testimony, hear his thoughts, acknowledge that he escaped, in a way, justice was clever though rather dangerous task. At first everything starts rather innocently, I hope the ironic undertone can be sensed, Max is sensitive and kind of fragile man. We do not know at this point how deeply damaged he is, how unstable, and how twisted his family issues are. On Ukraine he not only observes killings but also as any other officer has to participate in it what effects a nervous breakdown.
And it only keeps getting worse from now. Max is well-educated, enamoured with literature and music, he quotes from memory ancient philosophers and yet is dilligent and amenable cog in machine, a valuable member of horrendous system. Maximilian Aue seems to confuse ethics with aesthetics but by no means is only bureaucratic murderer. He can in one breath talk about wisdom of ancient authors and beauty of human, well, male's body, about love and music and at the same time being able to participate at executions. As he admits himself at some point while standing over graves of murdered Jews: I was haunted by the passion for the absolute and the transcending of limits.
And this duality makes him interesting narrator. In The Kindly Ones can be spotted quite dinstinct references to The Oresteia , a killing of mother and stepfather, an incestuous relationship with sister and the title outright appeals to Erinyes, the gracious ones , translated also as kindly ones , incarnation of vengeance. The novel explores acts that were done not by madmen or lunatics but by technocrats, lawyers, economists and administration.
Littell examines damages done to ordinary soldiers that had to face with mass extermination especially in the first days of war, tries to draw a line between them and psychopaths and degenerate individuals relishing these deeds. Through Max' eyes allows us to experience war at Ukraine, Russia and Poland, leads us through battle of Stalingrad, hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau to final days in Berlin.
He shows the birth of the idea of Final Solution and its bringing into existence. He depictures Holocaust as a kind of enterprise, a unique project that had to be done and gives us almost technical instruction of genocide. Report of Max is coldly precise and detailed then again hallucinatory and delirious but always intense and powerful. In a way he makes us almost his accomplices who only by a bit of luck could avoid his fate. I find this revelation quite disturbing. Max is not trying to play a martyr or victim to ask for our forgiviness, no, he wants our sympathy and understanding for who or what he was.
And it's even more disquieting. And thought-provoking. View all 43 comments. Aug 11, BlackOxford rated it really liked it Shelves: french-language , historical-fiction. It Begins and Ends in Bad Politics It is possible for human beings to justify all behaviour, no matter how irrational and cruel. Because this is so, some philosophers justify their view that moral norms must lie outside of human control, that there must be a God who knows what good behaviour is.
This justification is also irrational and frequently just as cruel. As for example when the philosophers and theologians of Nazism preached radical anti-Semitism based on universal genetic imperatives of It Begins and Ends in Bad Politics It is possible for human beings to justify all behaviour, no matter how irrational and cruel. As for example when the philosophers and theologians of Nazism preached radical anti-Semitism based on universal genetic imperatives of tribal competition.
Inhumanity, therefore, is what human beings are good at. As one of Littell's characters has it, " There is only humanity and more humanity. Nevertheless, irrationality and cruelty have to be arrived at incrementally. One's political and legal culture cannot be radically altered too suddenly lest irrationality and cruelty become obvious and rejected as such. It takes time to create new, not to say contradictory, social attitudes.
War is a tried and true method for cultural change. War is preceded by exclusionary politics to prepare the collective psyche. War then has its own inevitable agenda of escalating brutality. The aftermath of war requires its own victims. These are supplied by another sort of exclusionary politics. The definition of justice, a reliable barometer of social norms, invariably changes to accommodate the times. Littell has Adolph Eichmann summarise the situation: " The protagonist and narrator, Max Aue, is a gay SS officer.
This irony is compounded by the fact that he is a lawyer and classically educated into a culture of civility and reflective empathy. He writes like a German Vassily Grossman: not to defend but to merely describe his actions and motivations. Slipping slowly from unconcern to acceptance to assimilation to diseased monster, Max isn't German or inherently psychotic or evil; he is Everyman. It is as Everyman that Max plays a role in the Final Solution for the Judaism of Eastern Europe - in fomenting 'retribution' of Jews by Poles and Ukrainians, in the Einzatsgruppen, whose job it was to murder all Jews found in Russian territory conquered by the Wehrmacht, and in the preparation and supply of victims for the death camps.
The scenes depicted are well rehearsed in many other books on the Holicaust. Littell's take is innovative only because it is created from the point of view of the murderers, capturing their experiences and mental states as the war is prepared for, progresses, and ends. What they see is the terror of their own lives in the dystopia they have created. The democratic state has powers of coercion over its own citizens that could never be claimed by any monarch.
Democracy also possesses the cultural force necessary to turn evil into good through purely social sanctions. The murderer of wounded soldiers, for example, " What more do we ask of the individual in our civilized, democratic cities? Democracy inhibits conscience and promotes evil just as effectively as the alternatives.
In fact by legitimatising greed for reputation and ambition for power, democracy provides a welcoming framework for their development. This is one of the principle messages of the book. A message as relevant in the age of Trump and Putin as it was in the age of Hitler and Stalin. There may be no Cosmic Organizer but there should be at least a few resistors who can stand against the flow of insanity that pops up from time to time in democracies. As Max knows, "The past is never over. View all 24 comments.
Apr 28, Darwin8u rated it really liked it Shelves: I tell you I am just like you! It is like walking out of a David Lynch movie and feeling brain raped by the artist. How exactly to you attempt to explore the depths of Nazi Germany without feeling dark, abused, and sick afterwards? From conversations I've had with those who've hated this novel and British critics I've rea "I live, I do what can be done, it's the same for everyone, I am a man like other men, I am a man like you. From conversations I've had with those who've hated this novel and British critics I've read there is far too much shit, incest, anal sex and death.
But how exactly do you descend into the depths of Nazi hell without pushing through gouts of madness, clumps of wickedness and wads of depravity? You don't. Aue doesn't wrestle any Jewish angels. No, he wrestles himself, his country, his ideology, his sanity.
The slow decent of mad Max is a way for Littell to explore the absurd and tortured NAZI self-justifications for their actions. Littell also uses Max to incriminate us all as a species. We like to think we are better, more moral, kinder, respectable, innocent. Are we? Or are we simply blessed by chance because we don't find ourselves surrounded by madness, wickedness, and final solutions? Does circumstance and chance really make us better?
Does the fact that we find ourselves, by fate's mad roll, distant from both victim AND victimizer give us any room to think we exist in a field that really separates us from the horrors of Germany or Nigeria, or Sudan, or Afghanistan, or Somolia, or Serbia, or Cambodia, or Burma, or North Korea? Again, this is not a novel for the faint of heart or my mother. It doesn't have a happy ending.
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Hell, it doesn't have a happy beginning, middle, or single clean signature. It is a cold book sewn together with sick corruptions, musical madness, and omnipresent death. It is a dance of evil, a fugue of plagues, a bile-filled nightmare on every page. View all 20 comments. Dec 18, Richard Derus rated it liked it. Maximilien Aue, a former Nazi officer who has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France.
Max is an intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music. He is also a cold-blooded assassin and the consummate bureaucrat. Through the eyes of this cultivated yet monstrous man, we experience in disturbingly precise detail the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide of the Jews. During the period from June through April , Max is posted to Poland, the Ukraine, and the Caucasus; he is present at the Battle of Stalingrad and at Auschwitz; and he lives through the chaos of the final days of the Nazi regime in Berlin.
Although Max is a totally imagined character, his world is peopled by real historical figures, such as Eichmann, Himmler, Goring, Speer, Heyrich, Hoss, and Hitler himself. A supreme historical epic and a haunting work of fiction, Jonathan Littell's masterpiece is intense, hallucinatory, and utterly original. Published to impressive critical acclaim in France in , it went on to win the Prix Goncourt, that country's most prestigious literary award, and sparked a broad range of responses and questions from readers: How does fiction deal with the nature of human evil?
How should a novel encompass the Holocaust? At what point do history and fiction come together and where do they separate? A provocative and controversial work of literature, The Kindly Ones is a morally challenging read; it holds up a mirror to humanity--and the reader cannot look away. My Review : The Kindly Ones is more than a morally challenging read; it makes me feel deeply unclean.
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I don't have any idea what I would do, in the same circumstances as the author sets his protagonist into, but I suspect I would have been this protagonist had the same things happened to me at the same ages. I abandoned this book, a library day checkout, at p I just could not endure one more moment of German military terminology and I dislike the German language with sincere fervor, and then there is the slickly sickly slimy Max, with whom I can't bear to spend one more eyeblink; but good lord people, the amount I've already read would be a novel by itself!
As anyone who's ever read one of my reviews knows, I don't do book reports.
The Monster in the Mirror
The events of this book aren't in any way a surprise to you if you've been awake in the past year. I can say, though, that anyone who wants to deny the existence of a Holocaust would do well to read this novel. It feels like the events could not possibly be true. No one could live through this, perpetrator or not, and face life as a sane being ever again. Littell's story shows how well he understands the history of the factual Holocaust, and his choice of a protagonist shows how well he understands human nature and its strengths.
It's a deeply disturbing book for that reason alone. That a man could imagine this character, could write about him in his own voice and with clarity, precision, and artistry, is unsettling to my vision of authors as refiners of reality into truth. If Truth can contain this, there is no safe place anywhere. And there isn't. View all 11 comments. Oct 26, Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing. The Kindly Ones is an unsentimental journey to the darkest side of the human history. Fascism turned the Germany into a factory of death… And every factory must have an effective technology… So any technology must be perfected and the technology of murder as well.
But it was possible that this terrible thing was also a necessary thing; and in that case we had to submit to this necessity. Our propaganda repeated over and over again that the Russians were Untermenschen , sub-humans; but I refused to believe that. The novel is an uncompromising story of fascism — starting with its bloodthirsty snarl at humanity and ending with its agony and rigor mortis.
Ideology can pitilessly transform an ordinary man into a killing machine and use it until this machine breaks. But even in such inhumanly perfect society as fascist state there are corruption, intrigues, hatred and fear and they keep destroying the power from within. And the rest of humankind started destroying fascism from without. On the other hand one does see extraordinary curiosities, which completely revise our notions of what our poor bodies can endure. Yet another man might take a bullet through the head, from one temple to the other, and will get up on his own to walk to the first-aid post.
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