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The book is narrated by its fictional protagonist Maximilien Aue, a former SS officer of French and German ancestry who helped to carry out the Holocaust and was present during several major events of World War II. The page book became a bestseller in France and was widely discussed in newspapers, magazines, academic journals, books and seminars. In the plays, Orestes , who has killed his mother Clytemnestra to avenge his father Agamemnon , was pursued by these female goddesses.
The goddess Athena intervenes, setting up a jury trial to judge the Furies' case against Orestes. Athena casts the deciding vote which acquits Orestes, then pleads with the Furies to accept the trial's verdict and to transform themselves into "most loved of gods, with me to show and share fair mercy, gratitude and grace as fair.
Andrew Nurnberg, Littell's literary agent, said that a possible one-line description of the novel would be: "The intimate memoirs of an ex-Nazi mass murderer. In , Littell decided to quit his job at Action Against Hunger and started research which lasted 18 months, during which he went to Germany, Ukraine, Russia and Poland, and read around books, mainly about Nazi Germany , the Eastern Front , the Nuremberg Trials , and the genocide process.
In addition, the author studied the literature and film archives of World War II and the post-war trials. Littell said he wanted to focus on the thinking of an executioner and of origins of state murder ,  showing how we can take decisions that lead, or not, to a genocide.
Whereas the influence of Greek tragedies is clear from the choice of title, the absent father, and the roles of incest and parricide , Littell makes it clear that he was influenced by more than the structure of The Oresteia.
He found that the idea of morality in Ancient Greece is more relevant for making judgments about responsibility for the Holocaust than the Judeo-Christian approach, wherein the idea of sin can be blurred by the concepts such as intentional sin, unintentional sin, sinning by thought, or sinning by deed. For the Greeks it was the commission of the act itself upon which one is judged: Oedipus is guilty of patricide , even if he did not know that he was killing his father. The book is a fictional autobiography, describing the life of Maximilien Aue, a former officer in the SS who, decades later, tells the story of a crucial part of his life when he was an active member of the security forces of the Third Reich.
Aue begins his narrative as a member of an Einsatzgruppe in , before being sent to the doomed German forces locked in the Battle of Stalingrad , which he survives.
After a convalescence period in Berlin, and a visit to occupied France , he is designated for an advisory role for the concentration camps , and visits the extermination camps. He is ultimately present during the Battle of Berlin , the Nazi regime's last stand. By the end of the story, he flees Germany under a false French identity to start a new life in northern France. In the book, Aue accepts responsibility for his actions, but most of the time he feels more like an observer than a direct participant.
The book is divided into seven chapters, each named after a baroque dance , following the sequence of a Bach Suite. The narrative of each chapter is influenced by the rhythm of each dance. He is the director of a lace factory, has a wife, children, and grandchildren, though he has no real affection for his family and continues his homosexual encounters when he travels on business.
He hints of an incestuous love, which we learn later was for his twin sister. He explains that he has decided to write about his experiences during the war for his own benefit and not as an attempt to justify himself. He closes the introduction by saying, "I live, I do what can be done, it's the same for everyone, I am a man like other men, I am a man like you.
I tell you I am just like you! Aue's group is attached to the 6th Army in Ukraine,  where he witnesses the Lviv pogroms and participates in the enormous massacre at Babi Yar. He describes in detail the killing of Soviet Jews , Communists , alleged partisans and other victims of the "special operations".
Although he seems to become increasingly indifferent to the atrocities he is witnessing and sometimes taking part in, he begins to experience daily bouts of vomiting and suffers a mental breakdown. After taking sick leave, he is transferred to Otto Ohlendorf's Einsatzgruppe D only to encounter much hostility from his new SS colleagues, who openly spread rumours of his homosexuality.
Aue is then charged with the assignment of proving to the Wehrmacht that the Mountain Jews were historically Jewish rather than later converts to Judaism.
After he fails in this task, due to political pressure from the beleaguered Army, his disappointed commanding officer arranged that he be transferred to the doomed German forces at Stalingrad in late As with the massacres, he is mostly an observer, the narrator rather than the combatant.
In the midst of the mayhem and starvation, he manages to have a discussion with a captured Soviet political commissar about the similarities between the Nazi and the Bolshevik world views, and once again is able to indicate his intellectual support for Nazi ideas.
Aue gets shot in the head and seriously wounded, but is miraculously evacuated just before the German surrender in February While still on sick leave, he decides to visit his mother and stepfather in Antibes , in Italian-occupied France. Apparently, while he is in a deep sleep, his mother and stepfather are brutally murdered.
Max flees from the house without notifying anybody and returns to Berlin. He struggles to improve the living conditions of those prisoners selected to work in the factories as slave laborers , in order to improve their productivity.
Aue meets Nazi bureaucrats organizing the implentation of the Final Solution i. Aue witnesses the tug-of-war between those who are concerned with war production Albert Speer and those who are doggedly trying to implement the Final Solution. It is during this period that two police detectives from the Kripo , who are investigating the murders of his mother and stepfather, begin to visit him regularly. Like the Furies , they hound and torment him with their questions, which indicate their suspicions about his role in the crime.
There, he engages in a veritable autoerotic orgy particularly fueled by fantasy images of his twin sister. The two police officers follow his trail to the house, but he manages to hide from them. However, Aue soon finds himself trapped when the Red Army rapidly invades and occupies Pomerania. Arriving in Berlin, Max, Thomas, and many of their colleagues prepare for escape in the chaos of the last days of the Third Reich; Thomas' own plan is to impersonate a French laborer.
When he is transported to his execution, the car is hit by an artillery shell, enabling him to escape. Aue flees through the Berlin U-Bahn subway tunnels, where he encounters his police pursuers again. Though their case has been repeatedly thrown out of court, the two detectives, unwilling to accept defeat, decided to track Aue down and execute him extrajudicially.
Barely escaping when the Soviets storm the tunnels and kill one of the policemen, Aue wanders aimlessly in the ruined streets of war-torn Berlin before deciding to make a break for it. Making his way through the wasteland of the destroyed Berlin Zoo , he is yet again faced by the surviving policeman. Thomas shows up to kill the policeman, only to himself be killed by Aue, who steals from him the papers and uniform of a French STO conscripted worker.
The readers know from the beginning of the book that Aue's perfect mastery of the French language will allow him to slip away back to France with a new identity as a returning Frenchman. In the last paragraph of the novel, the narrator, after he ruthlessly killed his friend and protector, suddenly finds himself "alone with time and sadness": "The Kindly Ones were on to me. Maximilien Aue is a former officer of the SD ,  security and intelligence service of the SS; the book is written in the form of his memoirs.
His mother was French from Alsace , while his father, who left his mother and disappeared from their life in , was German. Aue's mother remarried a Frenchman, Aristide Moreau, which Maximilien highly disapproved of. He speaks many languages fluently — German, French, Ancient Greek and Latin — and holds a doctorate in law. Despite his French heritage and upbringing, he is, like his father, an ardent German nationalist. Even after the war, he is unrepentant of the crimes he committed in the name of National Socialism , "believing that it was my duty and that it had to be done, disagreeable or unpleasant as it may have been.
Refusing to truly love any woman other than Una, he becomes a homosexual but continues to fantasize about having sex with Una. A number of critics compared Aue's omnipresence in the world of the novel to that of Winston Groom 's character Forrest Gump. Littell also includes many historical figures that Max encounters throughout the novel. Amongst them are:. Le Figaro proclaimed Littell "man of the year". Everything is correct. The Spectator ' s literary reviewer, Anita Brookner , based on her reading of the novel in the original French, described the book as a "masterly novel 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. Initially, Littell thought that his book would sell around three to five thousand copies. Word of mouth and the enthusiastic reviews soon catapulted sales to such an extent that Gallimard had to stop publishing the latest Harry Potter novel in order to meet the demand for The Kindly Ones ,  which ended up selling more than , copies in France by the end of After the book was translated into German, there was widespread debate in Germany,  during which Littell was accused of being "a pornographer of violence.
Upon its publication in English in early , The Kindly Ones received mixed reviews. The New Republic ' s literary critic Ruth Franklin called it "one of the most repugnant books I have ever read [ In the end, however, his highly problematic characterization and awkward handling of point of view make this book far more successful as a dramatized historical document than as a novel.
Jonathan Derbyshire, culture editor of the New Statesman called it "a remarkable novel" and its protagonist "a convincing witness to the defining moral catastrophe of the 20th century. The result is a sprawling, daring, loose-ended monster of a book, one that justifies its towering subject matter by its persistent and troubling refusal to offer easy answers and to make satisfying sense.
To say that it falls short of Melville 's visionary originality and lacks, also, the breadth and vitality of Tolstoy, despite the claims of some reviewers is hardly a criticism.
It's a rare book that even invites such comparisons, and for all its faults, for all its problematic use of history, The Kindly Ones does just that. Sales in the United States were considered extremely low. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Publication date. The Monster in the Mirror. The New York Times. Retrieved on Night and Cog.
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Benévolas by Jonathan Littell
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-. 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. An intense and hallucinatory historical epic, The Kindly Ones is also a morally challenging read.