“Although The Kindly Ones is constructed like an airport potboiler, its scope, its intellectual sophistication, and its stately prose all point to Littell’s enormous literary ambition. His knowledge of the war, down to its most hidden bureaucratic crannies and its most private anguishes, is astonishing, particularly for an author who speaks no German.” More of the review here.
In an interview, Jonathan Littell said of the novel and his protagonist Max Aue, “I was aiming not for plausibility, but for truth. Novelistic truth is different from historic or sociological truth.” Does he achieve his goal? As a portrait of a perpetrator and his motivations, does the novel ring true for you?
Our weekly question for readers of The Kindly Ones:
The Kindly Ones is told from the viewpoint of an educated Nazi officer. What does this narrative viewpoint offer that other novels on the subject may not?
For a very thorough examination of the book by historian Samuel Moyn, go over to The Nation online.
“Contrary to most foreign critics (and perhaps Littell’s self-defense), the novel’s true premise is not that Aue is like other perpetrators. It is that he stands for Nazism as a whole.”
In his first essay, he points to how Littell’s experience working for an NGO in places such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan is key to thinking about how genocide is portrayed in the book:
“I do not understand how one can simply neglect to talk about this aspect of Littell’s personal history—is it not the most basic background and most likely impulse for the writing of a novel about mass murder, a great deal of which was the result or the corollary of starvation? To ignore or pass over the novel’s overwhelming prevalence of malnutrition, hunger, and starvation in favor of some relatively isolated scenes of (nonetheless intense) violence is to miss an enormous part of the novel’s substance, meaning, intention, and effect.”
Adam Roberts over at The Valve-A Literary Organ is posting his reactions to each section of The Kindly Ones as he reads them. Several of his readers have posted comments. Take a look. This link is to his first post but he’s posted three more since then.
“The force and clarity with which Littell renders the physical realities of war and mass murder are simply astounding… The Kindly Ones is unmistakably the work of a profoundly gifted writer.” More by Lev Grossman at Time Magazine.
From Susan Rubin Suleiman at The Boston Globe:
“…if you’re like me, you will read it to the end with a mixture of fascination and disgust toward its narrator, and admiration for the author who created him… this novel gives us a comprehensive and historically accurate account of the Nazi genocide of the Jews…” More.
Charlotte Mandell, who had the arduous task of translating The Kindly Ones into English, posted an essay about the book over at Beatrice.com.
“This is not the One Good Nazi of the sentimental (and to me disgusting) movies. This is the Evil Nazi, and we are in him for a thousand pages, and have to make our own way out. No consolations, no forgivenesses. I think about Paul Celan’s famous question, and realize we have to become the ones who witness the witness.” More.