Archive for March, 2009

Blographia Literaria

March 26, 2009

Andrew Seal at Blographia Literaria has two posts on The Kindly Ones. The first deals with his reactions to reviews of the book, the second his own review.

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.”

The Valve

March 21, 2009

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.

Time Magazine Review

March 20, 2009

“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.

The Boston Globe Review

March 17, 2009

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.

An Essay from the Translator

March 16, 2009

Charlotte Mandell, who had the arduous task of translating The Kindly Ones into English,  posted an essay about the book over at

“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.

Question for Readers

March 13, 2009

There are numerous books with controversial subject matter, material that some readers might find questionable or even objectionable. This has been the response of some early American critics of The Kindly Ones. Yet Jonathan Littell’s novel was a tremendous bestseller in Europe, where it received widespread critical acclaim and several top literary prizes.

What do you think accounts for this difference between the European and the early American reception of the book? How might having had the war and the Holocaust take place on one’s own soil affect a reader’s outlook? Imagine a novel about 9/11 from the terrorists’ point of view. How might readers on either “side” of this event react to such a book?

The Kindly Ones as satire

March 12, 2009

In a very interesting review posted at,  Ina Friedman writes:

The Kindly Ones is a satire on the Nazi endeavor, a matter in itself so black and so exaggerated that one can be forgiven for missing the trick Littell is playing.

And like all satire worth its salt (think Voltaire or Swift), it plants a seed of suspicion that something of us may be mirrored here – that “in a given set of circumstances,” in Aue’s words, we too are capable of growing hardened and indifferent to what may once have seemed outrageous and of surrendering ourselves to the flow, that the arrogant Aue may have had a sliver of a point when he declared at the start that “this concerns you.” And we read on, and on, essentially in a quest to dispel those disturbing thoughts, without realizing, of course, that the degree to which we succeed is in inverse proportion to the degree we deserve to.”  Read more.

USA Today Article

March 12, 2009

Read about the polarizing debate about The Kindly Ones at USA

Overview at New York Magazine

March 11, 2009

For an amusing overview of reviews so far for Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, take a look at this article at New York Magazine.  Reviews are sorted into three categories: “Kindly,” “Mean,” and “Ambivalent.”

A Historian’s Perspective

March 11, 2009

Reviewed by Peter Fritzsche (Department of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), February, 2009, at H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online:

“Aue (main character) is an obvious composite, a technique that enables Littell to introduce readers to the stages by which the precise machinery of murder was discussed and implemented, technical and moral barriers were overcome, and the ‘Final Solution’ was scaled to all of Europe. Moreover, Littell does so with an extraordinary ability to provide historical citation that is both scrupulously accurate and gripping…Littell pushes Aue from site to site in order to unsettle readers’ consciences and to disrupt the distance they have gained by historicizing the Holocaust. In the end, then, The Kindly Ones cannot be simply rejected as scandal against representation or as the kitsch of voyeurism. Its perpetrators do speak.” Read more.