Monday, 22 March 2010

THE KINDLY ONES by Jonathan Littell


I actually read this last year, but I found out at the great blog Reading Matters that it's been nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which is for translated literature.

It's an epic (very epic, like 900 pages of epic) story of a bureaucrat's involvement in the Holocaust. I think the author (an American writing in French, impressively) intended to show how we are all potential Nazis, and he succeeds sort of. He definitely succeeds in writing an interesting, revealing, well researched novel of WWII. I learnt, which I thought was very interesting, that far more people died through mass shootings in the area of the old Soviet Union than died in the camps.

You probably don't need to be warned that some parts are a bit grim.

There's some interesting things going on narratively, because as the novel goes on it becomes increasingly clear that he's not quite sure what it is he's telling us. For example, he goes to sleep, and when he wakes up, his parents have been murdered and are covered in blood. He's naked and the clothing he was wearing has been washed. Hmmm. There's also some very unfortunate sexual self-abuse incidents. These I skipped.

Totally recommend it though

(The Observer's review here is interesting)

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