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Les Bienveillantes : Coffret by Jonathan…
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Les Bienveillantes : Coffret (original 2006; edition 2008)

by Jonathan Littell

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1,826723,828 (3.92)95
Member:LecteurCanadien
Title:Les Bienveillantes : Coffret
Authors:Jonathan Littell
Info:Editions Gallimard (2008), Poche, 1401 pages
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The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (2006)

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» See also 95 mentions

English (42)  Dutch (13)  French (6)  Spanish (6)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (72)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Horrifying book ( )
  Wmt477 | Jul 11, 2014 |
not a perfect book, but one so vital, so important and so shattering that everyone should read it. The challenge from Dr Aue, SS man and lace factory owner is simply = 'What would you do, if you'd been there?' Littell takes us from the killing fields of the Ukraine and the Caucases to the fall of Stalingrad and the apocalypse of Berlin. We experience the killing squads working out how to murder; the dashing SS officers seducing young girls and boys, the industrialisation of the camps and the bureaucracy of genocide. And at the same time we experience this with Dr Aue, through his psychosexual traumas, stresses and his assent to the most horrific of crimes. The war in the east was not a war for gentlemen. And yet anyone who has worked in an ordinary office or lived an ordinary life will see parallels with the decisions and actions that we take part in every day. Extraordinary and overwhelming
  otterley | May 14, 2014 |
Lush storytelling that seems so authentic, so true, at times I forgot I was reading fiction. I just really loved this book. I had to read it twice--the first time I raced through to see how it would possibly end, then went back through and savored it. Beautiful. ( )
  justplainoldcj | Dec 9, 2013 |
The Kindly Ones is a densely-packed, minutely-detailed look into the eastern front of Hitler’s battle for world supremacy. Mr. Littell leaves no character actionless and no detail indistinct in this tome. Rather, he feels that a reader must have all of the details in order to best assess the psychological impact of the war and the Nazi doctrine on party members, collaborators, and unwilling participants alike, and he truly means all of the details. Dialogue is excruciating as every major and minor soldier has a line, no matter how trivial it may be. The unfamiliar German military ranks only serve as added weight to an already endless narrative, as does the pre-Cold War geography. The narrative and dialogue occur as if a reader is there next to Aue, watching the scene unfold firsthand and with the appropriate level of historical context to be able to understand the major players and meaning behind their actions. For readers without the historical knowledge, this makes the entire novel slow, ponderous, and more than a little confusing.

There is no doubt The Kindly Ones is controversial. In fact, it rivals American Psycho for its descriptions of the sick and perverted things one human can enact against another. The matter-of-factness with which Dr. Aue’s contemporaries and fellow soldiers execute the Jews and the gypsies and anyone else on the official “no friend to the Nazis” list, including inmates and hospital patients is terrifying. Similarly, the imagery is stark and gruesome. While Mr. Littell acknowledges that most soldiers struggled with the mass murders, this admission in no ways lessens the impact of such scenes. However, it is not these scenes with which readers will take the most offense. The controversy lies in Aue’s fantasies. As the war progresses, his hallucinations become more ghastly and more extreme, fueled by the strain of hiding his sexuality from the outside world and the compounded trauma associated with the war and the damage incurred by his highly inappropriate relationship with his sister. The last chapter is the culmination of this toxic stew and will simultaneously turn readers’ stomachs as well as render them breathless with Aue’s pain and suffering.

In spite of all of The Kindly Ones’ faults, Dr. Aue is a fascinating character by whom to study the psychology of peer pressure and justification of actions. Early on in the novel, Aue has this to say about guilt:

“What I did, I did with my eyes open, believing that it was my duty and that it had to be done, disagreeable or unpleasant as it may have been. For that is what total war means: there is no such thing as a civilian, and the only difference between the Jewish child gassed or shot and the German child burned alive in an air raid is one of method; both deaths were equally vain, neither of them shortened the war by so much as a second; but in both cases, the man or men who killed them believed it was just and necessary; and if they were wrong, who’s to blame?…I think I am allowed to conclude, as a fact established by modern history, that everyone, or nearly everyone, in a given set of circumstances, does what he is told to do; and, pardon me, but there’s not much chance that you’re the exception, any more than I was.” (p. 18-20)

It is with this in mind that a reader enters the first chaotic scene of the Germans following the Soviets into Poland and Czechoslovakia and beyond. These few statements not only provide keen insight into Aue’s frame of mind as he writes his memoirs, the fruit of which becomes the novel, but also a curious sense of remoteness as the reader ponders whether Aue is correct in his conclusions – something that leaves quickly upon a reader’s increasing emotional involvement within the story. It definitely raises one’s awareness about the idea of complicity, something that has plagued Germans since the end of the war.

The Kindly Ones is meant for readers with tough stomachs and even tougher psyches. Any scene involving the Jews is achingly brutal in the unflinching details. It is one thing to know of their fate; it is quite another to have their fate described down to the last blood drop or twitch. The nonchalant attitudes of the Germans are equally difficult to accept, as is their sometimes bizarre justifications for their actions. Still, it does no one any good to forget such things, and Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones makes it impossible to forget.
1 vote jmchshannon | Nov 28, 2013 |
OFFICE POLITICS IN HELL

The persistent question about the Holocaust is how Germany, such a cultured, civilized nation, could decide--in the 20th century, no less--that the life of the nation depended upon wiping out all of Jewry. Littell confronts this dichotomy through the person of his narrator, Max Aue.

Aue is knowledgeable about and interested in art, literature, philosophy and, most of all, classical music. But he is also a mid-level SS functionary and a cog in the machinery of death. He observes and writes reports about the Einsatzgruppen mass shootings, and selections and crematoria in the death camps. He regularly meets with Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann, Albert Speer and other big names in the history of the Nazis' genocide.

Aue suffers severe gastrointestinal illness from his field work, but he never connects it to the horror of what he observes. He believes in National Socialism and the Final Solution. When he becomes friendly with a linguist who tells him that Nazi racial science is utter hogwash, Aue responds that he has been given something to think about and wishes to return to the discussion, but he is saved from the necessity when his friend is killed. Instead, he continues to plod along in his career path and blandly reports it all to us in this lengthy novel.

So what's it all about? I came to the conclusion that, in essence, this is a history of the management of the worst corporation ever. A corporation whose mission is the most spectacularly wrong-headed and horrific thing imaginable---but whose failure to achieve its goal is attributable to those most prosaic banes of so many companies: office politics and the Peter Principle. All the various functionaries spend most of their time squabbling with each other for position or to try to achieve whatever they think the Führer's will is. Since they are all petty men of limited imagination and intelligence, of course it's all a complete schweinerei, as Aue likes to call it.

Does that mean this is another novel whose point is the banality of evil? Not exactly. Aue is not just some Aryan in an SS uniform. He is one screwed-up bizarro. He has a sexual fixation on his twin sister, with whom he had childhood incestuous relationship, broken up by his mother and stepfather. He often digresses from his tales of another lousy day at work into lengthy, hair-raising descriptions of violence, repulsive bodily functions and sexual perversions, real and imagined.

Littell is not the first author to try to connect Nazism with sexually-related mental illness. It makes a sort of sense. It's somehow easier to understand the Holocaust if we tell ourselves that those Nazis weren't like normal people; they were a bunch of sickos. But I think this detracts from the story.

Littell could lose all of the psychosexual and endless scatological stuff and have a much more powerful narrative. Aue's screwed-up psyche gets in the way of Littell's point that there is not, in fact, some bright-line difference between normal, ordinary people and those who can participate in unspeakable horrors. Littell does an excellent job of showing how Germans involved in the genocide become increasingly desensitized and brutalized. It's unfortunate that this, the most powerful part of the book, becomes obscured by Aue's psychosis and his escalating perversity, including a ridiculously over-the-top murder subplot.

Still, despite its huge flaws, this is a tremendously ambitious book, well worth reading. ( )
  Remizak | Apr 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Some of these ambitions are brilliantly realized; others much less so. But all of them make Littell’s book a serious one, deserving of serious treatment.

While some will denounce Littell’s cool-eyed authorial sympathy for Aue as “obscene”—and by “sympathy” I mean simply his attempt to comprehend the character—his project seems infinitely more valuable than the reflexive gesture of writing off all those millions of killers as “monsters” or “inhuman,” which allows us too easily to draw a solid line between “them” and “us.” [...] Aue is a human brother with whom we can sympathize (by which I mean, accept that he is not simply “inhuman”), or he is a sex-crazed, incestuous, homosexual, matricidal coprophage; but you can’t have your Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte and eat it, too.
 
The novel’s gushing fans [...] seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an odious stunt for contrarian cleverness. Willfully sensationalistic and deliberately repellent, “The Kindly Ones” [...] is an overstuffed suitcase of a book, consisting of an endless succession of scenes in which Jews are tortured, mutilated, shot, gassed or stuffed in ovens, intercut with an equally endless succession of scenes chronicling the narrator’s incestuous and sadomasochistic fantasies.

The novel [...] reads like a pointless compilation of atrocities and anti-Semitic remarks, pointlessly combined with a gross collection of sexual fantasies.
 
Notwithstanding the controversial subject matter, this is an extraordinarily powerful novel that leads the stunned reader through extremes of both realism and surrealism on an exhausting journey through some of the darkest recesses of European history.

The Kindly Ones reveals something that is desperate and depressing but profoundly important, now as ever. Max Aue, the SS executioner, states the truth with typically brutal clarity: "I am a man like other men, I am a man like you."
added by Widsith | editThe Guardian, Jason Burke (Feb 22, 2009)
 
Littell has been very faithful to real events: his research is impressive [...] Littell, a Jew, rightly believes that the prime duty of a writer as well as a historian is to understand. He has succeeded in putting himself inside the tortured mind of his character.

The Kindly Ones never descends into the sort of faction that is the curse of contemporary history [...] a great work of literary fiction, to which readers and scholars will turn for decades to come.
added by Widsith | editThe Times, Antony Beevor (Feb 20, 2009)
 
The novel is diabolically (and I use the word advisedly) clever. It is also impressive, not merely as an act of impersonation but perhaps above all for the fiendish diligence with which it is carried out. [...] This tour de force, which not everyone will welcome, outclasses all other fictions and will continue to do so for some time to come. No summary can do it justice.
added by Widsith | editThe Spectator, Anita Brookner (Nov 30, 2006)
 

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Fontana, LucioCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Für die Toten
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061353450, Hardcover)

Named one of the "100 Best Books of the Decade" by The Times of London

"Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened."

A former Nazi officer, Dr. Maximilien Aue has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France. 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. Eichmann, Himmler, GÖring, Speer, Heydrich, HÖss—even Hitler himself—play a role in Max's story. An intense and hallucinatory historical epic, The Kindly Ones is also a morally challenging read. It holds a mirror up to humanity—and the reader cannot look away.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:57 -0400)

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Fictional memoir of Dr. Max Aue, a former Nazi officer who survived the war and has reinvented himself, many years later, as a middle-class entrepreneur and family man in northern 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 the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide of the Jews in graphic, disturbingly precise detail from the dark and disturbing point of view of the executioner rather than the victim. During the period from June 1941 through April 1945, Max is posted to Poland, the Ukraine, and the Caucasus; he is present at the Battle of Stalingrad, at Auschwitz and Cracow; he visits occupied Paris and 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, Heydrich, Hoss, and Hitler himself.… (more)

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