Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Kindly Ones-Jonathan Littell

The Kindly Ones
Jonathan Littell
Harper, Feb 2 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780061353468

In France, Dr. Maximilien Aue decides to write his memoir focusing on his war experience years ago. Now with a family, Max muses about when he was SS, not only did he oversee and report on the mass murdering of Jews in the Ukraine, he proudly and gleefully participated. He gave tours pf Auschwitz and Birkenau and survived Stalingrad and Hitler's final bunker. His big philosophical spin back in the early days rivals the middle ages how many angels on a pin as he mused how many bodies makes a grave mass?

Looking back at what he considers his only failure, his tormented love for his twin sister, Una, who wants nothing to do with her Herr Doktor brother. Like much of his peers, he anticipated the end of the Third Reich so now what. He knew the Russians make the SS look gentle so he chose the West as Berlin burned.

This is not an easy read as Aue is all over the place with his wandering dialogue that at times meanders more than the River Mosel and often feels like a particular sequence is eternal. Adding to the difficulty of perusing his account is that Aue is not likeable and does not seek redemption; in fact his dissertation is a matter of fact chat of a brutal way of life and death. In other words he is still a cold psychopath concealing his past inside a middle class family. Throughout readers will ask how a culturally aware doctor could commit atrocities but Aue never responds beyond his casual that’s life, death and all the torture in between philosophy. Not for everyone, The Kindly Ones is a convoluted hard to follow essay that argues life is brutal, vicious and expendable with human predators hunting and torturing human prey.

Harriet Klausner

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