An “odious stunt” or a “masterpiece”?

The Kindly Ones, like any substantial work of art, takes risks and causes deep emotional reactions. We anticipated a wide array of reviews on both ends of the spectrum.

The New York Times reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, wrote a highly critical review of the book, here.  Kakutani says: “The novel’s gushing fans…seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an odious stunt for contrarian cleverness.”

A much different take on the book was posted by Michael Korda on The Daily Beast. “A brilliant Holocaust novel…A world-class masterpiece of astonishing brutality, originality, and force…I read it without pausing for breath, so powerful and terrifying was its portrayal of Nazi Germany, and of the Holocaust.”

And, as seen in the previous post on this blog,  there are several positive reviews from the UK as well.

This book will arouse great passion, and we hope that you will take a look and pick up a copy to decide for yourself. And once you have read it, come back to this blog and join the debate.

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2 Responses to “An “odious stunt” or a “masterpiece”?”

  1. Walter Reed Says:

    My response to the review of NY Times writer Michiko Kakutani may be of interest:
    I have no idea what other reactions you may have received to your well-meant review of “The Kindly Ones” – but I feel compelled to offer you a different reaction.
    I recently read Littell’s novel in French and came away with a totally different perspective. You see, I grew up in Nazi Germany, was able to escape as a persecuted Jewish teenager via Belgium and Vichy France and spent 1943-46 in the US Army in France and Germany, interrogating Nazi prisoners and later helping to denazify the nascent German government and the University of Marburg. By then (1945) I found out that my parents and 2 younger brothers had been shipped to Poland by order of the likes of the fictional Aue and murdered there, along with most of the other Jews from their Bavarian region.
    I am presently completing a non-fiction historical book about “Children as Victims of War” (all about Nazi persecution) for which I have done extensive archival research in Europe and here for the past 4 years.
    I am not, and have never been, a “typical Holocaust survivor” with the pain and other afflictions which still burden so many of them. On the contrary, I am closely connected with numerous German, French and other European current community leaders and citizens. So, I think that I am very sane and somewhat knowledgeable about Mr. Littell’s topic.
    For a long time now I have looked for the kind of work achieved by Jonathan Littell. One which vividly and unhesitatingly paints the mentally and psychically flawed multitude of Nazi leaders (criminals) who happily planned and executed the horror we all talk about but which outsiders (including apparently you) will never be able to imagine or comprehend. Thus I was truly satisfied to read the distorted and horrible personalities and descriptions which he managed to bring into focus, though I fully admit that reading it is unneeded horror for most. But, my friend, so was the whole Holocaust perpetrated by the real Aues. Your review makes me realize that one has to be a lot closer to these tragic events than you seem to be. You are not alone.
    I have recently read the many literary reviews of Littell’s book by German critics, some warmly pro and many violently con (not surprisingly they hate to see their forefathers’ evil doings described in such miserable detail). Reviewers sitting at computer keyboards are a long way from the ruins of Stalingrad and from the burning corpses in the crematoria.

  2. Johnny Lagoon Says:

    Can a work of art cut so deep as to elicit the kind of emotional denial that fostered the seeds of The Holocaust in the first place? And what does that imply about the thin line betweem then and now or for that matter the entire nature of the human race? Is that what is symbolically implied by the dust jacket’s graphic of a strange thin red line? Is it an unhealed scar? A wound? A cut? A runic icon such as the SS worshipped and that fed the mystical madness of a Nazi utopia? Is it symbolic of a woman’s vaginal openng, the creation of life, and all the horror stemming from that gesture of birth that human beings have left upon the Earth?

    Ms. Kakutani’s review couldn’t seem to care less one way or another, and that is transparent enough of a reaction to this novel to make me know without even reading one word of it that Mr Litell has already accomplished something truly monolithic.

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