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The Kindly Ones [Paperback]

Jonathan Littell
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.99
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Book Description

4 Mar 2010

Dr Max Aue is a family man and owner of a lace factory in post-war France. He is an intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music. He is also a former SS intelligence officer and cold-blooded assassin. He was an observer and then a participant in Nazi atrocities on the Eastern Front, he was present at the siege of Stalingrad, at the death camps, and finally caught up in the overthrow of the Nazis and the nightmarish fall of Berlin. His world was peopled by Eichmann, Himmler, Göring, Speer and, of course, Hitler himself.

Max is looking back at his life with cool-eyed precision; he is speaking out now to set the record straight.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 992 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Thus edition (4 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099513145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099513148
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"It is a great achievement to have made this horrific tale recounted by such a profoundly unsympathetic character so gripping...a great work of literary fiction, to which readers and scholars will turn for decades to come" (Anthony Beevor The Times)

"An extraordinarily powerful novel that leads the stunned reader on a journey through some of the darkest recesses of European history...reveals something that is desperate and depressing but profoundly important, now as ever" (Observer)

"Everybody's talking about it...erudite, pitiless and mesmerising" (Financial Times)

"A compelling and savage tale, with a cold dispassionate eye that never flinches from the raw reality of mass-murder... a serious attempt to describe the terrors of the Nazi regime" (Independent)

"The book rises magnificently to its own occasions, building out of its fact-crammed but stately sentences a vast and phosphorescent tableaux vivants seething with Dantesque detail" (Guardian)


"The biggest novel this month, and an essential read [...] remorseless, obsessive and compelling." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
137 of 142 people found the following review helpful
It is very difficult to write about this much-reviewed book, The Kindly Ones, which won France's most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. Perhaps my difficulty arises because as I attempt to write it, I keep finding myself moving too rapidly into superlatives while also conscious that these need almost to be qualified with mental health warnings, such is the impact of this massive work on the unsuspecting reader.

I think I need to say that if you travel with Maximillian Aue through these 970 pages, you will be in the company of a senior SS officer, totally imbued with Nazi philosophy and convinced of his mission to further the aims of his Fuhrer in every possible way. Max Aue is a monster, but also an immensely cultured monster. He is a Greek scholar and a student of Plato, and sees no dichotomy in aligning Nazi philosophy with the highest values of the ancients.

The book is a first-person account, in which Max Aue addresses the reader throughout, and his opening sentence, "O my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened" tells his readers from the start that in his view he is no different to anyone else. He tries to carry his readers along with him, taking as a "given" in his audience what would in fact be evidence of the worst possible corruption. He tries to show us that what he does is inevitable if the world is to be put to rights. The murders and massacres are a correction to a world order which has been allowed to become askew. The Nazis are just carrying out a necessary correction, a realignment which will put things back on course.

As you read this book, you will walk with Dr Max Aue as he leads an "Aktion" in the Ukraine in which 50,000 people will be massacred (the infamous Babi Yar massacre).
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The French were right 29 Dec 2009
I am amazed how wrong some top reviewers have got this book. It is a truly brilliant work of European literature, but some of the top people UK newspapers have got to review it have just not got it. First and foremost, the reader should understand that the book is presented as being the work of the narrator - a Nazi. Therefore, his ideas are not to be confused with those of the author. I know it is a basic point, but the review in The Independent just lost the plot, going so far as to say that the claims on page one - self-justifying Nazi drivel were wrong and would hardly be accepted by survivors of the Holocaust! Well, du-uh! The Lermontov motif picked up in the Caucasus phase of the novel is important in this respect - he used the same technique to explore the personality of Pechorin, the 'lichniy chelovek,' in A Hero of our Time. Precisely what resonance Littell hears when exploring this Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the context of the German conquest I am not quite sure, and I will have to re-read Lermontov.

The fact that this novel purports to be the work of the re-invented Nazi should be the clue which explains the aspects which some British reviewers failed to get. The narrator's hang-ups about his parents, his sister, and his gay pick-ups are not some cack-handed attempt to 'explain' fascism via psychoanalysis. They do, however, allow the reader to see how the war and the holocaust were not necessarily the only - or even the main - things in the forefront of protagonists' minds. Aue's mind flits easily from the shooting at hand to an intense reflection on his mother's betrayal.
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107 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great novel or Nazi porn? 4 Mar 2009
By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
This book is definitely going to be one of the most talked-about this year, as Nazi Maximilian Aue narrates his own story. "Fellow human beings, let me tell you how it all happened," he begins. "If you aren't in too much of a hurry, with a bit of luck you'll have time. Because it concerns you."

The voice is direct and the reader immediately wants to know more. This directness means that it's never a difficult book to read, despite its great length. Aue describes his own experience of World War two, beginning as a member of death squads in the Ukraine, as a soldier at Stalingrad, as a bureaucrat in Berlin helping to organise concentration camps more "rationally", and in the end even in the bunker with Hitler himself.

But the book takes you to places where you ask yourself constantly "did I want to know about this?" Mass executions and burials; incest fantasies and brutal concentration camp scenes. The historical detail is extraordinary, and the five years research by the author has been highly commended by military experts. But all the time you ask yourself "what is this book for? What did Littell write it for? And what am I reading it for, when some of it is so incredibly disgusting?"

This is particularly true of the graphic sexual content which has done the most to inflame reviewers, leading some to label it nazi porn.

In the end, I think that the book is so thought-provoking that it is a great novel. It poses so many questions. And it is certainly great in terms of conjuring up this odd, awful man. I am looking forward to reading reviews by other people because maybe they will have more answers than me; I ended up with only strange, uncomfortable questions.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Beware-a clever book-but faction
A clever book-not history-not fiction-a sort of faction which draws the reader with no experience of the period 1941-45 into thinking this for real. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Mr Nigel Williams
3.0 out of 5 stars Great history, terrible sex
This is a very clever book, but does not merit comparison with classics: it has too many faults. I don't know how accurate it is historically - I have heard it takes liberties -... Read more
Published 14 days ago by jiffybooks
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Scarily good. reminds me of Hemmingway. Detailed, rich, disturbing....a wonderful book
Published 1 month ago by Emma Jinks
5.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written, and deeply troubling novel about the most ...
A richly researched, beautifully written, and deeply troubling novel about the most tragic historical event of the modern age - the Holocaust. Read more
Published 1 month ago by CASSINI24
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Difficult read but informing
Published 1 month ago by Mr B A Stark
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindly bin before reading
My previous review was deleted, twice, but I doggedly persist in order to warn you, reader, that you are about to waste many precious hours of your life on 1000+ leaden, bloated,... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Christopher Stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars A book which refuses to simplify Nazi Germany
This is a novel which has split not just individual readers but also reading and cultural communities: in France it has been awarded the highest literary honours, in America it has... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Roman Clodia
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating from start to finish
A great story which is imaginatively written. A realistic account on how the SS operated and it made me think about things that I never really considered before.
Published 7 months ago by N Sandher
4.0 out of 5 stars That was then .
This work has been an eye opener for the likes of myself. Those who never actually knew much about the Second World War .. About the Nazis and what they did and why ... Read more
Published 7 months ago by El Massri
4.0 out of 5 stars a difficult read
This is one of the hardest books I have ever read, not because of the subject matter. It was a very interesting book, difficult to "like" but sometimes liking a book isn't... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kaiserin
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