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The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

The Kindly Ones (2006)

by Jonathan Littell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (49)  Dutch (13)  French (7)  Spanish (7)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (81)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Wow, what a book!
Around page 200 I switched to the audio version, because the physical book I had was a gift for someone else.
This was the first time (as far as I can remembers) That I read a book about WWII with this point of view, at least, with this much detail. As if the characters were actually living and as if I was part of the scenes.

It gave a disturbing look at things. It was cruel, explicit, also sexually and gave a good idea of how things worked at the German side of the war. What I liked best was the absence of a condemning know it all voice (at least I couldn't detect it).
Shifting to audio made the experience a different one. I didn't very much like the voice of the narrator (quite crucial when you have a book that's over 30 hrs of listening...) and sometimes I got annoyed, distracted a bit.
As you can probably detect from my text, I have difficulties trying to catch in words the thoughts and feelings that this book awoke in me. I don't think I'll try. I liked it, I hated it, it was a very interesting read and it left me dizzy.
I will just end with the first word I started with: Wow! ( )
1 vote BoekenTrol71 | May 9, 2019 |

“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.

( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Crudo, forte e veritiero. Uno dei pochi libri in circolazione a parlare apertamente, a descrivere i minimi dettagli tutta la macchina di sterminio degli ebrei nella fredda russia. Un nazista, un soldato delle ss che si racconta. Tanta rabbia è scaturita da questa lettura. Non puoi fare ciò che hai fatto e non pentirti minimamente. ( )
  TheGirin | Sep 19, 2018 |
The story of Max Aue, a German/French man who served in WWII. He is a lucky man but a very "sick" man. Max is guilty of murder of children, women, he is guilty of incest, and he is guilty of matricide. Yet, he states in the beginning of the book, "I am a man like you". The book examines a lot of philosophies and political ideology and historically it was an interesting read but the sexual and autoerotic "crap" and I use that word both as description and literal was beyond what I feel is necessary in a book to get the point across.

I liked the parts where Littell examines different people groups, how he shows that many nations have acted similarly. He made many interesting comments about Political ideologies and ethnic cleansing.

Littell is an American born author who chose to write in French. He won the Goncourt, Grand Prix du Roman de L'Academie francaise, and Bad Sex in Fiction Award among other homors.

This title is based on Greek mythology of Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia who kills his parents and has sex with his sister and then is judged but given clemency by the Furies who are renamed the Eumenides or Kindly Ones. ( )
  Kristelh | Sep 3, 2018 |
In the very last sentence of his 900 page book, Jonathan Littell mentions, for the first time, les Bienveillantes or Erinyes (the Furies) of ancient Greek and Roman religion and mythology. I hadn’t heard of them but it seems that

they were powerful divinities that personified conscience and punished crimes against kindred blood … when called upon to act, they hounded their victims until they died in a “furore” of madness or torment.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.

With this foresight of retribution, he finishes a remarkable book, but not before he exhausted me as much as he informed, horrified and entertained me. To call it a 900 page book is to short-change it, for it is a densely packed text with few paragraphs; not even dialogues merit the use of paragraphs; and page long sentences are not rare. It would be, conservatively, a 1200 page book in conventional formatting. It is also a very uneven work. Detailed blow-by-blow accounts of momentous occasions (such as Babi Yar) are set side-by-side with interminable accounts of daily life, bureaucracy and intelligence collection. The complete suppression of the second last chapter concerning his stay at his sister’s mansion would greatly improve the book.

However, the bottom line is that this is a remarkable and very worthwhile book that helped me to understand the Nazis, the Jews and humanity in general. As I write, the very term humanity makes me pause, suggesting as it does the benevolence that I first thought his title referred to, because this book exposes the truth about humanity: that it is a thin bark of kindness masking a thick trunk of self-interest, voracity or at best indifference. The average Nazi, the average German soldier, the average Jew was no better or worse than the average one among us. They were just doing their job, unthinkingly, without the courage to say no. It’s happening today in Darfur and Baghdad. More tellingly, it’s happening in offices and clubs and everywhere people interact. Someone is in a position of strength and they wield it directly or through others to take advantage of yet others. The middlemen are just doing their job. Indeed, it is a matter of pride to them that they do it well.

In a fabulous passage, Littell’s anti-hero explains the various motivations of the different departments concerning the evacuation of Jewish prisoners from Hungary. Nobody seems particularly anxious to mistreat them, but everyone has his own selfish reason to perpetuate their plight. Finally he describes a “young intelligent expert” in the Department of Food and Agriculture who supports the forced migration as it releases food supplies in Hungary for export to Germany. He is unconcerned that they would still have to be fed wherever they were sent to because:

… that wasn’t his responsibility, the evacuation of the Jews was the solution to his problem, even if it became a problem for someone somewhere else. And he wasn’t the only one, this man, everybody was like him, I too was like him, and you, in his position, you also would have acted as he did.

And as you read this you can’t help nodding in agreement. It’s true! You probably would have acted as he did. You probably do in your workplace or club. ( )
  tchelyzt | Jul 15, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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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