Named one of the "100 Best Books of the Decade" by The Times of London
"Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened."
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-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. Eichmann, Himmler, Göring, Speer, Heydrich, Höss—even Hitler himself—play a role in Max's story. An intense and hallucinatory historical epic, The Kindly Ones is also a morally challenging read. It holds a mirror up to humanity—and the reader cannot look away.
Topics: France, Germany, Epic, 1940s, Dark, Haunting, World War II, The Holocaust, Nazis, Concentration Camps, War, Genocide, German History, Unreliable Narrator, and 21st Century
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-Le Nouvel Observateur, taken from the back cover
EEWhat is this shit?EE
-A former French resistance fighter on this book, as quoted by Laurent Binet in The Millions
This is a book that could have been. There were brief flashes of fascination, tantalizing ideas, lost in an interminable sea of dreck.
The opening Toccata gives us a few teasing sentences: "y human brothers, let me tell you how it happened." says the SS-Officer, and ends with "I am a man like other man, I am a man like you. I tell you I am just like you." Now is this a pleasing lie to himself or a plea to persuade? This brings to mind Arendt's study Eichmann in Jerusalem, on how ordinary people can be convinced or seduced to commit great evils and justify them.
But the book turns sour. The chapters with their musical titles of Allemandes, Courante, Sarabande, so on, are played largo in E minor.
It is to be understood, in a book like this, that there is due to be excessive violence. This is, after all, about an SS-Officer in the Eastern Front. It is gruesome, but endurable. And furthermore, I must give credit to the author for doing his research. He apparently got the hierarchy of titles and organizations right, as far as I can tell. And his long information dumps are intensely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of languages and ethnicities of the Caucus, and the absurdity of trying to classify them into Jewish or not-Jewish so they can be exterminated shows the foolish ideal of the Nazi goal of racial conquest.
For those, I give the author credit. And he has had his experience with war and suffering - mainly, volunteer work in the DR-Congo.
But after that, there is little investigation of moral dilemmas at all. Just chronology. Atrocity, extermination, rear-guard action, pincer movement, all become a dull sludge. Only a few cursory fragments, as tempting as they are, give us reason to think. But otherwise it is a catalog of atrocities.
Speaking of sludge, what is it feces and this book? Perhaps it may have been written as a shock factor, but instead of any contemplation or angst at all, we see a more physical psychosomatic reaction. Do something evil? Just poop it out! Your nation and ethos crumbling around you? Put a sausage up your butt in the Siege of Berlin, 1945 and cry thinking about fucking your twin sister!
I'm not saying that feces as a metaphor is inherently bad. Nor does the gratuitous and forced incest make an inherently bad novel, although they can understandably disgust so many readers and either dissuade or titillate so many others. Instead, they are more like a substitute for something more important, as though a long and difficult conversation is being avoided or hidden with more gratuitous shock value.
The author seldom mentions the simmering occupation of France. Only a few mentions, if perhaps at all. If the author spoke of atrocities there, say Oradour-sur-Glane, would the book arouse such prurient interest, visceral recognition of true evil? But that, too, is another omission.
Tant pis. 1 star, not because the whole work is to be discarded (at least, all but the beginning), but because of how much it frustrated and disappointed.hhapmore