Synopses & Reviews
Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened.
Dr. Max Aue, the man at the heart of Jonathan Littell's stunning and controversial novel The Kindly Ones, personifies the evils of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Highly educated and cultured, he was an ambitious SS officer, a Nazi and mass murderer who was in the upper echelons of the Third Reich. He tells us of his experience during the war. He was present at Auschwitz and Babi Yar, witnessed the battle of Stalingrad, and survived the fall of Berlin -- receiving a medal from Hitler personally in the last days of Nazi Germany.
Long after the war, he is living a comfortable bourgeois life in France, married with two children, managing a lace factory. And now, having evaded justice, he speaks out, giving a precise and accurate record of his life. The tone of his account is detached, lapidary, and for the most part unrepentant, whether he is describing his participation in mass murder on the Eastern Front, his bureaucratic investigations of labour productivity in the death camps, his casual murder of civilians as he tries to break through Russian lines towards the end of the war, or his fervid and convoluted relationship with his twin sister.
Over its course, by entwining Aue's life with those of historical figures such as Eichmann and Speer, Himmler and indeed Hitler, The Kindly Ones comes to depict the entire architecture of Nazism -- from its grandest intellectual pretensions to its most minute, most chilling managerial details and executions. The Kindly Ones presents -- with unprecedented realism, meticulous research that is both fascinating and compelling, and brilliant literary accomplishment -- the greatest horrors imaginable.
War and murder are a question, a question without an answer, for when you cry out in the night, no one answers, Aue says. In the same way, this powerfully affecting, powerfully challenging book confronts the reader with the most profound questions about history, morality, and art without offering any easy resolution. Written originally in French, and published now in English for the first time, The Kindly Ones has already sold to date well over a million copies in Europe. In France it won two prestigious prizes, including the Goncourt, and has been compared to War and Peace and other great classics of literature.
From the Hardcover edition.
"That such a novel should win two of France's top literary prizes is not only an example of the occasional perversity of French taste, but also a measure of how drastically literary attitudes toward the Holocaust have changed in the last few decades." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"The Kindly Ones often reads like a beefed-up thriller; the metaphorical steroids of Greek mythology and intellectual history give it muscles merely for show." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"If there is anyone in your Facebook friends list who doesn't know about the crimes of the Nazis, give them this novel. The punishment fits the crime." San Francisco Chronicle
"[T]o doll up a novel about Nazism and the Holocaust with pop-fiction conventions on the one hand...and quirky postmodern touches on the other is to dance on the edge of impertinence." David Gates, New York Times
"Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened." So begins the chilling fictional memoir of Dr. Maximilien Aue, a former Nazi officer who has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in 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 in disturbingly precise detail the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide of the Jews. 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 and at Auschwitz; and he 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, Göring, Speer, Heyrich, Höss, and Hitler himself.
A supreme historical epic and a haunting work of fiction, Jonathan Littell's masterpiece is intense, hallucinatory, and utterly original. Published to impressive critical acclaim in France in 2006, it went on to win the Prix Goncourt, that country's most prestigious literary award, and sparked a broad range of responses and questions from readers: How does fiction deal with the nature of human evil? How should a novel encompass the Holocaust? At what point do history and fiction come together and where do they separate?
A provocative and controversial work of literature, The Kindly Ones is a morally challenging read; it holds up a mirror to humanity and the reader cannot look away.
Massive in scope, horrific in subject matter, and shocking in its protagonist, Littell's prize-winning fictional memoir of a former Nazi officer who survived the war is intense and utterly original.
About the Author
Jonathan Littell was born in New York to American parents, and grew up in the United States and France. He lives in Barcelona, Spain.