The Kindly Ones
This is an immense novel; both in terms of its size, for it was a physical challenge to take this on the daily commute to and from London, but more importantly with reference to its theme and content. There is much to say about this disturbing book, but I should focus on it as a historical novel, rather than examine the many other issues it raises.
Dr Maximilien Aue, a man with a mixed French-German background, addresses the reader directly in his memoirs as he analyses in forensic detail his career as a legal jurist in the SS in wartime Germany. Littell provides extraordinary depth of detail about the bureaucratic structures and disputes that underpinned Germany’s horrific war on the Eastern Front, as well as the historical narrative of the many important events that Aue somewhat conveniently observed and engaged in – the exterminations, Stalingrad, Auschwitz and the chaotic Endseig in Berlin. The depth of detail is astounding and authentic. We spend so much time within Aue’s perverted mentality that eventually his own Weltanschauung, i.e. the acceptance of the necessity to solve the Jewish question one way or another, comes to seem almost as natural, so that the reader just begins to understand the fractured perspective which drove the Germans onto their ideological Armageddon. Aue is both homosexual (which creates problems for him as an SS officer) and increasingly mentally imbalanced – an incestuous obsession with his twin sister, a serious head injury in Stalingrad, and the psychological damage caused by witnessing and perpetrating in the atrocities against civilians, all draw him down into a mental maelstrom. He is the archetypal unreliable narrator. We observe akin to the shocking fascination of a nasty traffic accident. Definitely not light reading, but a challenging work that gets into the inner core of historical atrocity.