the kindly ones


It comes as no surprise that a book that is preoccupied with giving a persuasive account of what it would be like to be an ostensibly civilized person who ends up doing unimaginably uncivilized things should, for the most part, have been enthusiastically embraced and, to a far lesser extent, vigorously resisted in a country that has such a tortured historic relationship to questions of collaboration and resistance. For the same reason, perhaps, you’re not surprised to learn that the most violent criticism of the “monstrous” book’s “kitsch” and “pornography of violence” has come from Germany and Israel: the countries, that is to say, of the perpetrators and the victims. The critic of Die Zeit bitterly asked why she should

read a book written by an educated idiot who writes badly, is haunted by sexual perversities and abandoned himself to racist ideology and an archaic belief in fate? I am afraid that I have yet to find the answer.

The answer to that impatient question surely has something to do with the novel’s large ambitions, which precisely address the question of why we would be interested in how an educated person could abandon himself to racist ideology, and what the ramifications of that abandonment might look like. Some of these ambitions are brilliantly realized; others much less so. But all of them make Littell’s book a serious one, deserving of serious treatment.

more from the NYRB here.