Monday, February 23, 2009

The evil that ordinary men can do

Jonathan Littell's extraordinary Holocaust novel asks what it is that turns normal people into mass killers.
By Jason Burke writing in The Observer, Sunday 22 February 2009

This remarkable book was first published in France in 2006, as Les Bienveillantes.
The first significant work of Jonathan Littell, Francophone son of American spy author Robert, it was an entirely unexpected success.

Gallimard, the publisher, originally printed 5,000 copies. Within months, Les Bienveillantes had sold 300,000 copies, had been welcomed by critics as the most important book for 50 years and had won the Goncourt and Femina prizes. Stupendous sums were paid for its foreign rights and it went on to sell more than a million copies across Europe. Now it has been translated into English and will surely cause a similar fuss.

The Kindly Ones
by Jonathan Littell
Chatto & Windus,

What accounts for the attention? A 900-page work written in impeccable French by an American, albeit one educated in France, was always going to be talked about.
But the main reason for the book's notoriety is its subject matter.

The novel tells the story of the Holocaust and Nazism through the eyes of one of the executioners, an SS Obersturmbannfürher on the Eastern Front who is attached to the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile execution squads whose task it was to kill Jews, partisans and other "undesirables" in the wake of the German advance. Both in France and across Europe, there were fierce debates about the morality and feasibility of giving voice to such a character. In Germany, Littell was accused of being "a pornographer of violence".
But The Kindly Ones also owes its success to its quality as a work of fiction. Notwithstanding the controversial subject matter, this is an extraordinarily powerful novel that leads the stunned reader through extremes of both realism and surrealism on an exhausting journey through some of the darkest recesses of European history.
Read the full review here.

1 comment:

Charles said...

A related book, "Jacob's Courage," is a tender coming of age love story of two young adults living in Salzburg at the time when the Nazi war machine enters Austria. This historical novel presents accurate scenes and situations of Jews in ghettos and concentration camps, with particular attention to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. It explores the dazzling beauty of passionate love and enduring bravery in a lurid world where the innocent are brutally murdered. See for more information.

"Jacob's Courage is available through all major booksellers. For those unable to purchase the book, I am willing to provide the e-book at no cost. Just e-mail me at

Charles Weinblatt
Author, "Jacob's Courage"