(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)Middle-aged French intellectual Jonathan Littell caused a sensation in 2006 with his infamous The Kindly Ones
(finally published in the US for the first time in 2008), a thousand-page historical novel which attempts to take the most complicated look ever at what turned a bunch of otherwise boring, middle-class Germans into amoral monsters during the Nazi period of the 1920s through '40s (which, by the way, turns out to mostly be the same things that turned a bunch of otherwise boring, middle-class Americans into amoral monsters during the Bush years), chief among these reasons the culture of endless brutal public violence that was perpetuated in those days, said endless violence of which Littell faithfully reproduces in his own book, which is what mainly caused its infamy in the first place. But as I quickly realized when starting to make my way through it myself a few weeks ago, Littell could've actually accomplished this in a tight 300-page manuscript if he wanted; so what this doorstop mostly turns out to be instead is an insanely exhaustive examination of the jumbled bureaucracy that held Nazi Germany together, containing thousands upon thousands of offhanded references to the hundreds of sub-divisions within the party's executive structure and military setup, none of which are explained within the text itself but rather in a dense glossary at the end of the book. Seriously, Littell, you're freaking killing me here.
Also, Littell made the unfortunate decision to make our everyman narrator the perpetrator of a whole series of ultra-prurient sexual fetishes as well, references to which the narrator is constantly dropping into his recollection here of the war years, as casually as if he were discussing the weather (take for example his nostalgic reminisces about the solo nighttime forest wanderings he used to be able to take as a child, before mentioning that the main reason he treasures them is because he was able to indulge in his habit of auto-erotic asphyxiation without any interruptions); and this not only dilutes the book's main message (that most evil acts in history are not committed by inherently evil people, but rather normal people put into evil circumstances), but is also something I personally found profoundly offputting and completely pointless as well. The good parts of this book really are good, don't get me wrong, just that they're miniscule and surrounded by dozens of pages of needlessly disgusting or yawn-inducing fluff; and that's why I gave up on The Kindly Ones
less than 200 pages into it, and recommend that you not even start it at all.Out of 10: 5.4read more