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The kindly ones : a novel
Jonathan Littell
Adult Fiction LITTELL

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Written in French by an American, this was the hot book of Frankfurt in 2006 and won two of France's major literary awards. A couple of years and a reported million-dollar advance later, here it is in English. Is it worth the hype and money? In a word, no. Dr. Max Aue, the petulant narrator of this overlong exercise in piling-on, is a rising star in the SS. His career helped along by a slick SS benefactor, Aue watches the wholesale slaughter of Jews in the Ukraine, survives getting shot through the head in Stalingrad, researches and writes dozens of reports, tours Auschwitz and Birkenau, and finds himself in Hitler's bunker in the Reich's final days. He kills people, too, and is secretly gay-a catcher-and tormented by his love for his twin sister, Una, who now rebuffs his lusty advances. He also hates his mother and stepfather. As he claims, "If you ever managed to make me cry, my tears would sear your face." But after nearly 1,000 pages, Herr Doktor Aue, for all his alleged coldness and self-hatred and self-indulgent ruminations, amounts to nothing more than a bloodless conduit for boasting the breadth of Littell's research (i.e., a nine-page digression on the history of Caucasian linguistics). The text itself is notable for its towering, imposing paragraphs that often run on for pages. Unfortunately, these paragraphs are loaded with dream sequences marked by various unpleasant bodily functions, a 14-page hallucination where a very Celine-like crackpot cameos as "Dr. Sardine" and dozens of numbing passages in which SS functionaries debate logistical aspects of the Jewish Question. Also, nary an anus goes by that isn't lovingly described (among the best is one "surrounded by a pink halo, gaped open like a sea anemone between two white globes"). Most crippling, however, is Aue's inability to narrate outside his one bulldozing, breathless register, and while it may work marvelously early on as he relates the troubles of trying to fit the maximum number of bodies into a pit, the monotone voice quickly loses its luster. In the final 200 or so pages, Berlin is burning, the Russians and Americans are making rapid advances, Hitler is nearly assassinated and SS brass are formulating their personal endgames. But, alas, this massive endeavor grinds to its conclusion on a pulp conceit: two German cops, against all odds, are in hot pursuit of Aue for a crime he may or may not have committed. Littell's strung together many tens of thousands of words, but many tens of thousands of words does not necessarily a novel make. As the French say, tant pis. Jonathan Segura is the deputy reviews editor of Publishers Weekly and the author of Occupational Hazards. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Recalling the moral didacticism of Albert Camus's The Plague, the haunting struggles with political and social guilt in G nter Grass's novels, and the labyrinthine reflections on individual destiny in Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities and Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, Littell's sprawling novel recounts one individual's moral struggle over his execution of hundreds of Jews during Hitler's reign. Now living the life of a cultured gentleman in France, Dr. Maximillian Aue has decided to write his memoir both to pass the time and to see whether he can still feel anything. In the course of his directionless meanderings, he recounts his numerous acts of murder, and he appears Zelig-like at the sides of Himmler, Eichmann, and even Hitler. Aue is at once the kind of figure who raises the perennial question about the Holocaust: how can a man steeped in the riches of German philosophy, music, and literature kill others in such a cold-blooded fashion? Yet Aue is hardly a complex character, and he doesn't generate much sympathy from readers. This work won numerous awards in France when it was published, but it's not clear that American readers will want to struggle through almost 1000 pages of unresolved moral conflict about the Holocaust. Because the book has received considerable press, however, most large libraries will want to own a copy. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/08.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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