Jonathan Littell's novel The Kindly Ones is a translation of the French version published in 2006. Ever since its publication, it has achieved a monumental status both in France and the rest of the world with its grim World War II plot. It concerns the life of Maximilien Aue who unemotionally participates in the Nazi atrocities, and has been at Auschwitz and at Berlin during the Allied attacks. As Littell aptly puts it, his hero is a ‘roving X-Ray, a scanner', more of a machine than human to whom the landscape is as important as the gas chambers.
The novel is largely a reworking of the Orestia myth where after killing his mother Clytemnestra, Orestes is hounded by the Furies. At the end of the Greek play, the Furies are appeased and metamorphose into Eumenides which literally means ‘the oindly ones'. Orestes goes free and unpunished just as Aue, who, on the one hand, is an obedient slave of the genocide machinery, and on the other, becomes a reliable and an objective narrator of the Nazi crime, claiming that genocide paradoxically has behind it the impetus of “calm, collected'' ordinary people. Though addressed to his ‘human brothers' the book seeks answers to the reason why such heartless cruelty exists in the world. As Aue maintains: ‘Now of course the war is over. And we've learned our lesson, it won't happen again. But are you quite sure we've learned our lesson? Are you certain it won't happen again?' He goes on to argue: ‘There are psychopaths everywhere, all the time. Our quiet suburbs are crawling with pedophiles and maniacs, our homeless shelters are packed with raving megalomaniacs …and then the very same State that would without batting an eye send them to war crushes them like a blood-swollen mosquito. These sick men are nothing. But the ordinary men that make up the State— especially in unstable times — now there's the real danger. The real danger for mankind is me, is you.'
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