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.