The Kindly Ones has ratings and reviews. Glenn said: “Please, mein Herr, shoot the children cleanly.”― Jonathan Littell, The Kindly OnesSu. Les Bienveillantes de Jonathan Littell a créé l’événement de la rentrée littéraire Selon l’auteur, la portée du roman dépasse le seul génocide des Juifs. 78 Myth, Morals, and Metafiction in Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes [ PM LA and Littell has asked his translators to use in each language the name under.
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This epic novel, nearly 1, pages long, has already made publishing history in France. Two years bisnveillantes, it exploded like a bombshell in the semi-stagnant pool of contemporary literature. Littell, an American, who wrote Les Bienveillantes in French, won the Prix Goncourt and has sold more than a million copies in bienveillamtes edition alone.
It is appearing in some 30 foreign editions. This Anglo-American translation, which is certainly faithful, cannot quite capture the stunning use of language in the French original, in which litetll German ranks and technical terms strike the ear like the crack of a whip.
The Kindly Ones are the Eumenides, the Furies, and the novel is structured as a classical Greek tragedy. Aue, a half-German and half-French lawyer and intellectual, is sent on a variety of missions.
This enables him to act in the book as a sort of video camera with a biting voiceover.
Through his eyes we see the brutal but clumsy work of the Einsatzgruppen murdering Jews and communists behind the lines during the invasion of the Soviet Union. He then is sent to the Caucasus in when the German Panzer divisions race south towards Grozny and the oilfields, but are halted by Soviet counter-attacks. Aue is transferred to Paulus’s Sixth Army in Stalingrad – the pivot of the book as well as of the war. He conducts a long interview with a captured Soviet commissar who is about to be bienveillantea.
Their revealing ideological cut and thrust is inspired by a similar debate in Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Like Grossman himself, who was heavily influenced by Tolstoy, Littell believes in semi-plagiarism as an act of literary homage. But it is the Germans who are about to suffer as the Soviet encirclement crushes the starving remnants of the proud Sixth Army – the retribution after their hubris. Aue receives a serious head wound and is ojnathan by air just before the German surrender.
He returns to convalesce in Berlin. There he is attached to Himmler’s personal staff. He is ordered to report on Auschwitz and other camps, where he discovers corruption, the bureaucratic rivalries of different departments and the incoherence of the extermination programme.
It is the chaotic apotheosis of Hitler’s regime. Aue is also sent to Budapest in to report on the rounding up of the Hungarian Jews.
The evil that ordinary men can do
Although they are required for slave labour by the embattled Reich, most are killed by a machine designed for the annihilation of people rather than winning the war. He also witnesses the terrible death marches of January when concentration camp prisoners were brought in towards the Reich through freezing snow without food.
Then, just as Soviet armies sweep into Pomerania before delivering the coup de grace on Berlin, Aue drives there to the manor house of his brother-in-law to save his beloved sister. The empty house is isolated in a landscape of deep snow. In the most extraordinary and beautiful passages of the book, Aue abandons himself to his fantasies and dreams, knowing that the Red Army may arrive at any moment and that he, in his SS uniform, would be shot on the spot. Although Aue may seem improbably cerebral for the SS – one bienveillanhes at first that this is to allow him to provide an incisive commentary – he is uonathan of an extraordinarily intellectual clique that really existed within the Sicherheitsdienst, the security service of the SS.
As Littell has acknowledged, this helped him to identify with his character and explore his mind and motives. Aue is fictional, but he meets a number of bienveilpantes figures, including Eichmann, Himmler, Speer and other Nazi notables.
Apart from one or two mischievous tweaks Aue bites Hitler’s nose in the Reichschancellery bunker when presented with a medal during the downfallLittell has been very faithful to real events: Where Littell is particularly strong, both in historical terms and as an integral part of his novel, is in his depiction of ltitell Nazi and SS bureaucracy, with their rival departments, each bienveillantrs its own viewpoint and ethos.
They are all trying to control this monstrous industry without any sense of objective factors, such as whether their decisions are helping the war effort and thus allowing the regime as a whole to survive. The book has caused a furious controversy. This is hardly surprising since in the past 25 years the Holocaust has become a sacred subject, mistakenly separated from and elevated above the Second World War itself.
Some critics have argued that humanising one of the oppressors creates a form of empathy, if not sympathy. But I cannot understand how anybody could sympathise with Aue by the end of this book. 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. Aue’s own littfll narcissism and perverse fixations with graphic lees of degradation, to say nothing of a scatalogical leitmotif, has prompted accusations that the book bienveillanes a form of Nazi pornography.
Aue is completely obsessed by his twin sister, with whom he developed an incestuous relationship at puberty. There are mysterious details, such as the twice-mentioned fact that Aue is circumcised. Littell refuses to explain, saying that he himself is not sure what they signify, but that they felt essential when he wrote them: As an author, he feels that it is up to the readers to littdll as they see fit. It is not the job of the novelist to explain his own work.
Littell, while bienvfillantes to being intrigued by the images of mirrors, refuses to confirm or deny an intended jonahan parallel between Stalinism and Nazism. There is also another facet to the apparent theme of mutual reflection. During an imaginary conversation, his sister Una suggests to him that the Nazis’ anti-Semitic obsession is a repressed form of self-loathing. In another context, Littell bienveilllantes quoted Grossman’s observation: There are two poles now.
On one side are racists who suppress the world, on the bienveilllantes, Jewish racists, the most suppressed in the world. But as Littell reminds us so well, Hitler’s obsessive racism became entirely self-defeating: It is a great achievement to have made this horrific tale recounted by such a profoundly unsympathetic character so gripping.
Littell is far better qualified than most to engage in such a dangerous enterprise. Having spent several years working with victims in Chechnya, Sarajevo and Africa, and having encountered a number of mass murderers, he uses this experience to explore the motivation and psychology of such killers.
It is an area of vital importance to modern historians, but they are restricted by a comparative lack of hard evidence. In the early round-ups and often bungled killings by the Einsatzgruppen, Littell suggests that much of the brutality came from an anger among the executioners. This was because they found that their victims, especially the children, were not as dehumanised as they had been led to expect by their superiors and the propaganda of the regime.
In the book, as in real life, they suffer mental breakdowns and resort to drink.
Himmler soon recognised that one advantage of the extermination camp system was the way that prisoners, shorn of their hair and stripped of civilian clothes, were reduced to human livestock. His SS executioners suffered much less trauma as a result. Some critics fear that the power and influence of Littell’s book is so great that it will distort historical perception of the subject for future generations. But this is a misplaced concern. Even though real characters appear, The Kindly Ones never descends into the sort of faction that is the curse of contemporary history.
The author rightly refuses all suggestions that it should be made into a film, despite its great cinematic potential. It will therefore remain what it is: The exoticism of evil. James Lasdun on a provocative retelling of the Holocaust’s horrors through Nazi eyes. Saturday 28 February One approaches the fictionalisation of any aspect of the Holocaust with suspicion.
Art is always at some level entertainment, and the idea of being entertained, however skilfully, by this particular set of horrors seems inherently objectionable. Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones reprises the familiar atrocities, in graphic detail and at massive length, from the viewpoint of an SS officer intimately involved in their execution.
The book, which has already won the Prix Goncourt Littell grew up in Paris and wrote it in Frenchis certainly skilful. It’s certainly objectionable too, deliberately so: One’s abiding sense of something pornographic about the whole enterprise is orchestrated – cleverly, horribly – into the comprehensive disgust at one’s own species that it seems intent on arousing.
Despite the title the Kindly Ones are the Eumenides, agents of catharsis in Greek dramathis is not one of those works that set out to leave you with a feeling of teary uplift about the Holocaust a strong point in its favour. The officer, Max Aue, a lawyer in civilian life, presents himself as a cultivated man; a Nazi by conviction rather than expedience, intellectually scrupulous, highly disciplined but also sensitive the mass killings he observes and helps to organise sicken him to the point of repeated breakdown, even as he constantly affirms, explains and re-explains his belief in their necessity.
In its coupling of high culture with demonic brutality, his character seems premised on Celan’s line about the preservation of Goethe’s oak tree in Buchenwald: The story he tells, roughly speaking, begins with his acceptance of an assignment on the ill-fated eastern campaign, to write reports on the implementation of steadily darkening directives concerning the “Jewish question”. As the early victories in the Caucasus where the unpleasant business of butchering Jews is alleviated by enlightening opportunities to visit, say, the site of Lermontov’s duel stall in the face of Russian resistance and winter, Aue falls foul of his commanding officer, and finds himself dispatched to Stalingrad.
Here, after witnessing freshly apocalyptic levels of horror, he is shot through the head, but miraculously survives, waking up back in Berlin to find Himmler pinning a medal to his chest. In this capacity, he becomes embroiled in a bureaucratic wrangle between Eichmann, who wants to exterminate as many Jews as possible, and Albert Speer, who wants to keep as many as possible alive to use as slave labour: A common effect of reading histories of the Holocaust is the helpless desire for exegesis that they leave you with.
The eagerness with which Hannah Arendt’s line about the “banality of evil” has been seized on as holy writ is a measure of the intensity of this need. One way of looking at Littell’s novel is as an attempt to use the resources of fiction to supply this missing dimension: He perhaps even, thanks to his head injury, possesses the legendary pineal “third eye”, capable of penetrating into the spiritual essence of things.
Review: Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell | Books | The Guardian
In this respect the book rises impressively, even magnificently, to its own occasions, building out of its fact-crammed but stately sentences the impersonal prose resembles that of a mandarin memoir vast and phosphorescent tableaux vivants seething with Dantesque detail. If you have an interest in feeling your way bienveiplantes the administrative manoeuvring, the pseudo-scientific argumentation about language and race, and the mass of period-specific social and sensory minutiae that comprised the human reality out of which arose, say, the massacre at Babi Yar, or the final death march from Auschwitz; if you care to revive, in your own psyche, the finer points of cannibalism in Stalingrad or the emotional impact on the war-weary Gauleiters of Himmler’s call, at Posen, for total genocide, then this is undoubtedly a book you should read.
It does, however, bienveillanets some large flaws. The most serious, for me, was Littell’s decision to equip his protagonist with a radically abnormal set of psycho-sexual characteristics. An erotic obsession briefly consummated with his twin sister Una, a murderous hatred of his mother and stepfather, and an inconsolable grief for his absconded father, form the basic elements of littlel inner life.
Rejected by Una as a lover, he compensates by taking male lovers in order to pretend to himself that he is Una, as they gienveillantes him.
And on a sick leave in the south of France he hacks his mother and step-father to death with an axe he denies this, but is pursued by a pair of semi-comic furies in the form of two bievneillantes relentless Kripo cops, throughout the rest of the war.
These jlnathan establish Aue as a familiar literary type: They also fulfil the standard trope equating Nazism with extreme kinkiness. The problem is that they undermine Aue’s repeated claim one that seems to represent the basic philosophical claim of the book that we, the readers, are no different and would have behaved just as he did under similar circumstances: At least Eichmann’s “banality” is something most people can relate to.
What this novel offers instead is a study in the exoticism of evil. The more perverse it gets, the littepl representative Aue seems of anything other than himself. By the end, after extended scenes of him having sex with half the furniture in his sister’s abandoned house, we’re left with a pure singularity: