133 of 148 people found the following review helpful
Flawed, but worth it,
This review is from: The Kindly Ones (Hardcover)
I read this in French when the reviews started coming out raving about it. I dont intend to read the English translation: once in any language is enough. But I found that I could not put it down once started. It is astonishing, compelling, revolting and, alas in all too many places, boring. As I was reading it, I was constantly reminded of Daniel J. Goldhagen's reminder of the physicality of the Holocaust: blood and brains spattering all over the murderers: you get the point. It struck me that this is where Littell is taking the reader: into the physicality of the heart of darkness. And there is a lot of that in this novel: too much, or just enough? I guess it depends on how you take it. Kakutani in the NYT didnt take it at all well. But I think still there is merit in Littells approach: this is perhaps the thing that art can do best, deliver a whalloping punch to the gut. And that the novel certainly achieves. On the downside, it does tend to go on and on; there are long passages describing Aue's dreams or hallucinations or whatever that dont succeed well at all, IMHO. I found myself skimming these passages after close reading of the first one. They dont seem to add much insight into Aue's character, psychology or motives.
The Kindly Ones will certainly not be to everyone's taste and Littell took a huge risk in tackling such a sensitive and explosive topic in the way he did. I have been haunted by this novel from time to time since I read it, but I dont regret it. There is a case to be made that it's garbage, but in the end, for me, I found it deeply illuminating in places, and ultimately satisfying as art. Human evil remains a mystery here and that is as at should be.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 8, 2009 8:52:18 PM PDT
Zib Zob says:
Goldhagen, not Goldberg. Goldberg wrote about Hillary the fascist, Goldhagen wrote about the real things.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2009 5:06:39 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 19, 2009 12:54:37 PM PDT
yes, Goldhagen wrote about the real things, but exaggerated them quite a bit. Does he have a job now?
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 26, 2009 10:37:23 AM PDT
Thanks for the correction; I knew it was Goldhagen but I guess I was typing too fast!
Posted on Apr 3, 2009 9:39:21 PM PDT
Dan J. Bushby says:
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 4, 2009 5:32:56 PM PDT
Aww, Dan: that chip on your shoulder is just darling. You should show it more often.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 19, 2009 12:53:16 PM PDT
Nope Goldhagen EXAGGERATED about the whole thing.
Posted on May 19, 2009 10:17:38 AM PDT
Michael Scully says:
Well done, rilir. Excellent and lucid exegesis(I never get to use that word). I feel almost the same about it but would like to add that I think Littell might be as degenerate as his Herr Doctor. Sorry, I DO pass judgements and, as long as they are opinions only, and not binding, I think more people should. The last 200 pages were excruciating. Additions to insomnia pharmacology? However. I am glad it is part of me now. The young man did an extraordinary amount of work.
Posted on May 21, 2009 12:02:50 PM PDT
If I could write as well as this reviewer does, this would have been my review. I felt and thought the same way. And I am impressed you read it in French, I struggled in my native English!
Posted on Jun 28, 2009 4:30:59 PM PDT
I recognized Jonathan Littell's name because he is the son of the novelist Robert Littell, a former correspondent whe became a a successful novelist (he wrote The Defection of A J Lewinter, The Company, and many other books) and moved to France. His son grew up going to French schools, which is why he is bilingual. I too read The Kindly Ones in French when it first came out and won a major French literature prize. (And for the insecure rock-throwers---I learned French starting in 2nd grade in the late 50s in Massachusetts and later spent some years working on assignment in France). I think rillr's review and a number of the other commens here are right on target: it is brilliant writing , with a hero who becomes increasingly hard to stomach as time goes on and he is sucked into the deepening Nazi atrocity as it is played out in the East. And while the earlier parts of the book are spellbinding, the last 200 pages get to be hard slogging. I read one brief interview with Jonathan Littell, who apparently has avoided discussing the book for the most part. He said that he tried to imagine what it was like to be a German back then, when most of the society were drawn into the Nazi system. And this is what is fascinating about the book---all these well educated, cultured German lawyers and other professionals who get sucked into the system even though they are often horrified by what they see around them. A frisson of "there but for the grace of God . . ." warns the reader to beware.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 21, 2009 9:00:18 AM PDT
Tim Smith says:
I take issue with a couple of your comments. Max Aue, while the featured character, is no hero. He is also not sucked into the atrocities that played out in the east. The atrocities are rather his true nature (and those of his companions) coming to the surface. Society was not drawn into the system, that system was rather a reflection of the flawed society. What the book does so brilliantly is dispose of the lie that honest educated everymen were sucked into the system. We learn through the book that while Max Aue may pretend to be civilized and an everyman, he is in his heart a psychosexual monster drowning in merde. That rather than the system sucking him in, the system is his creation and a reflection of his true self.