The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

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The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ekaterina Rodyunina
Reviewed by Ekaterina Rodyunina
Summary: An incredibly interesting, deep, very well crafted and throughly investigated fictional memoir of an SS officer in World War II. A grand work and worthy read: though please be aware of graphic descriptions of sex and violence.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 992 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 978-0701181659

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Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened starts the ficitonal memoir of an SS officer Dr. Aue. Oh great, I thought, there go 900 pages that will explain to me how you can go from being a good citizen to killing millions of people.

It does indeed start this way. We follow Dr.Aue being tricked into the SS to escape imminent punishment for being a homosexual. We see him going from a white collar job in Berlin to Jew extermination squads in the Caucases and Crimea.

We notice how he struggles to accept all the atrocities of the daily life around him - it was not a problem of humanity, he explains. One feels compelled to believe him, to give him the benefit of the doubt, to agree that, after all, it is just a job assigned. A person at war rarely makes the decisions, a person obeys the orders of his superiors, whom he considers to be more capable, more insightful, more country-minded that himself.

We therefore wait for the story to unfold. One cannot help but commiserate when Aue is being underservingly sent to the front in the last months of the Stalingrad campaign, sent to face almost certain death as result of a disagreement with an officer who was torturing the prisoners. All throughout, we see Aue try to remain human , Greek-philosophy reading and French-speaking outcast, an average educated man stuck in a hideous job that only war can begin to justify.

Aue narrowly escapes death at Stalingrad, and it is about the time he is back safe, - though not too sound - in Berlin, that one begins to notice that something about him has shifted or perhaps was that way all along: something neither moral nor decent. It is but a faint glimpse at first, a suspicion growing stronger as we realize that Auschwirz and Treblinka do not shock him anymore, as he becomes close to the Reichsfuhrer, as he moves on with his life.

Not to mention his relationship with his sister: not entirely conventional, to put it mildly, it infuses the book and becomes more and more powerful and apparent with every struggle he takes.

To tell more would be giving it away, but it is an incredibly interesting, deep, very well crafted and throughly investigated book. It is a grand work, a considerable effort of the author. Defintely a worthy read for everyone, though please be aware of intensly distrubing pornographic fantasies of the character and graphic description of war and torture.

There are a lot of questions left unanswered in the book, but one ultimate question remains, for each reader to decide for oneself: is the narrator indeed human and is he indeed one of us? Most importantly, could one become like him under the circumstances given?

I would like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

For a non-fictional account of World war II, check out Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War by Rodric Braithwaite.

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Magda said:

900+ pages!!!!!!!!

If the description of the plot is anything to go by, Martin Amis did precisely the same thing in Time's Arrow ...on 175 pages and backwards.

I don't like Martin Amis the novelist, but that is possibly his best book and much better than Jill's 3.5 stars suggest :-)))))