32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The French were right,
This review is from: The Kindly Ones (Hardcover)
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. This is not presented as explaining his Nazism, but it shows how the (historically massively important) murder of Jews was actually just one more task he got on with, which was not in fact all that hugely important to him. Revealing his near indifference to something we now understand to be huge, a crime overarching our century, whilst also participating in it up close, is Littell's great achievement.