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Les Bienveillantes : Coffret (original 2006; edition 2008)

by Jonathan Littell

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2,045753,264 (3.9)112
Member:LecteurCanadien
Title:Les Bienveillantes : Coffret
Authors:Jonathan Littell
Info:Editions Gallimard (2008), Poche, 1401 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (2006)

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)

“Please, mein Herr, shoot the children cleanly.”
― Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones

Such a fiercely compelling novel, one of the most evil stories ever told. I had to listen to the audio book while taking my walks and let all the evil from the novel run down my legs and out the bottom of my feet; so much evil, thus my initial reluctance to write a review and highly recommend. However, the writing is excellent and the insights on human nature, history and culture numerous.

The first-person narrator starts his story by telling us nowadays his head begins to rage with the roar of a crematorium, that when he is at a bar he pictures someone entering with a shotgun and blasting away; that when he is watching a film in a theater he imagines a live grenade under the seats; that when he is among dozens of happy families on a pleasant Sunday afternoon attending a festival in the town square he sees a car filled with explosives blowing up, turning the festivities into unending carnage, blood and guts everywhere, groan, screams, pitiful cries filling the air and then a long harrowing silence and emptiness for the survivors.

Such are his thoughts since, as he also tells us, he is a veritable memory machine, unceasingly manufacturing memories whenever he has the time to think. Thus, he discovers when he once took a leave-of-absence from his responsibilities as manager of a lace factory, he can’t be left alone too long to think.

So, Little’s novel has Maximilien Aue recounting memories in the spaces between his normal round of work and family, recounting memories as a man in his mid-fifties currently living in 1970s France. And what is the focus of his memories? Back when he was a young man, an Untersturmführer, that is, a Nazi SS Lieutenant living through the bitter cold and mass killings at the Russian Front, the slaughter of the concentration camps, the murders he committed with both his own pistol or his own hands, the perversions of his personal life and violence of his family life, all recounted and reported in chilling detail, in a narrative voice unflinchingly calculating and as cold and as hard as steel, say the steel of an abandoned tank in subzero January. As a good number of readers have remarked once finishing this thousand pager, not an easy read, in many respects, a downright harrowing and horrifying read. Once read, never forgotten.

Rather than the killings, slaughter, perversions and other violations of humanity in Max’s waking life, I will synopsize four of the Nazi SS officer’s vivid, intense dreams:

ONE: Max is on a high cliff watching a procession of gondolas glide down a river, he clearly sees his gorgeous identical twin sister sitting cross-legged, her long flowing black hair falling over her perfectly shaped breasts. (Sidebar: in real life Max is sexual infatuated and romantically in love with Una, his identical twin sister). Max shouts her name many times. She raises her head and their eyes meet. 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.

THREE: In a dark bedroom Max sees a tall beautiful woman in a long white dress. 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.

FOUR: Max exchanges cloths with his sister Una, he putting on her dress, she putting on his uniform. 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.

Of course, we could envision what a psychoanalyst, either a Freudian or a Jungian or an analyst from any other school would make of Max’s dreams. Let me simply conclude by saying that anybody wishing to read this novel must be prepared for the many more brutal, cruel and murderous scenes of Max’s waking life, reminding me of the hell scenes of the artist Hieronymus Bosch . Again, one of the most evil tales ever told.

( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
The Kindly Ones Jonathan Littell
★★★

This is the story of Max Aue a German homosexual who also happens to be an officer in the SS, having survived the war he now wants to tell his story in his own words and explain why he was party to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Accused of being a homosexual Aue is blackmailed into joining the SD a branch of the SS to avoid prosecution which would more than likely result in his death. Aue is sent to the Ukraine where he witnesses and records the work of the death squads as they clear the area of Jews, he details how the work is made more efficient by using the sardine technique where the condemned dig their own graves lie down in them like sardines and are shot in the back of the head, he also details how the killers are either driven mad by the work or come to enjoy it too much.

Aue falls out of favour and is posted to the siege of Stalingrad where he is shot through the head a wound that although he survives with no noticeable physical side affects leads to him being posted back to Berlin to work closely with Speer on the Jewish question and ways of making a work force of prisoners supplied by the work camps work more efficiently.

This had the potential to be a great book however it was ruined by the detailed minutiae of German ranks and the constant obsession with diarrhea, deviant sexual fantasies and incest.

The parts I found interesting were the way the Germans were investigating the heritage of Jews in the Ukraine and Russia based on their language and use of ritual as well as their ancestry. It was also horribly compelling the way Aue was involved in trying to secure a work force of camp prisoners for the German war effort by arguing for livable rations but only for those who could work allowing "natural selection" to remove those who were a burden.

Aue is bothered psychologically by what he witnesses and what he does however he believes war is war and that the enemies of the state deserve to die, he is also shocked when the German behavior of killing the Jews is compared with the allies killing innocents in their bombing raids.

This would have been an interesting book if the author had concentrated on Aue and the men around him and how and why they did what they did without having to bombard the reader with detailed analysis of German military ranks. Personally I would have cut all the details relating to diarrhea except where it had a valid point to make, I would have cut the incest completely because really there is no need for it in a novel about war the homosexuality was valid because it lead to difficulties for Aue but overall the level of detail about anal sex was way over the top.

It would be nice to read a book that felt no need to try and make itself unsavoury by using sex and instead concentrated on what was really important, the way the Germans justified what they did to the Jews.
( )
1 vote BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
Difficult book - never finished - Why such large sections dedicated to homosexual acts and thoughts. ( )
  busterrll | Sep 15, 2015 |
There were times while I was reading this that I thought perhaps the vast amount of history could have been cut. A thousand-page novel...really? When is that actually necessary?
Well, it is for this book.
I had also thought at times that the dialog could have been trimmed up for pacing. But then I also considered that the author was handling the dialog that way for a purpose, and that eventually the purpose would be revealed. It was, in the last 100 pages when the protagonist retreats to his sister's house and spends a bizarre few weeks there in isolation.
So, the two elements that I thought maybe could have been trimmed in the end revealed themselves as masterworks by the author. I don't want to say much more because, despite this being 1,000 pages long, there's actually not much I can detail without providing spoilers.
Know this one thing: The most important revelation comes literally with the last sentence. The entire work...how the history is handled, that dialog, the protagonist's journey through the war as well as his personal events...all come together in that single masterful last sentence.
This is a brilliant novel. Well worth the dedication to read all 1,000 pages. ( )
1 vote Laine-Cunningham | Feb 22, 2015 |
Horrifying book ( )
  Wmt477 | Jul 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (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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Jonathan Littellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Botto, MargheritaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fontana, LucioCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Für die Toten
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Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:33 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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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