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The Kindly Ones
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Diane Zwang | 1315 comments Mod
Questions from Penguin Random House Canada

11. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole - or the character of Maximilien Aue?

12. Why does Jonathan Littell present the policemen Clemens and Weser in somewhat caricatured fashion?

13. The title The Kindly Ones comes from Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. Why do you think the author in some way modelled Max Aue on Orestes, who also killed his mother and her lover, and had a relationship with his sister? What do you think he was saying? What other literary allusions are there in the novel?

14. How would you compare The Kindly Ones to other books you have read about World War II and the Holocaust, fictional or non-fictional? It has been called highly original. What new perspective does it contribute to World War II and Holocaust literature?

15. If you could ask Jonathan Littell one question about this novel, what would it be?


message 2: by Kristel (last edited Sep 03, 2018 01:26PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kristel (kristelh) | 4259 comments Mod
Continuing Menuet, page 650 to the end.

Air, page 867 to 913 ( [probably translation of Italian aria]
a : tune, melody a lilting air
b Elizabethan & Jacobean music : an accompanied song or melody in usually strophic form
c : the chief voice part or melody in choral music)

Gigue page 917 to 975
nounMUSIC
a lively piece of music in the style of a dance, typically of the Renaissance or baroque period, and usually in compound time)


message 3: by Kristel (last edited Sep 03, 2018 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kristel (kristelh) | 4259 comments Mod
11. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole - or the character of Maximilien Aue? The author has shown how these things can happen to people and even in many pages showed how other groups of people including the US, Britain have been guilty of similar actions. In the end, I disliked Maxililen Aue so very much, he was a mad kiler, but a killer. He killed people who he had no "war reason" to kill.

12. Why does Jonathan Littell present the policemen Clemens and Weser in somewhat caricatured fashion? kind of like dumb investigators. Like Columbo. Kind of dumb/smart and persistent.

13. The title The Kindly Ones comes from Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. Why do you think the author in some way modelled Max Aue on Orestes, who also killed his mother and her lover, and had a relationship with his sister? What do you think he was saying? What other literary allusions are there in the novel?

son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. He killed his father and mother. The Erinyes or Furies were vengeful goddesses who tracked and tormented those who murdered a parent. Athena casts the deciding vote which acquits Orestes, then pleads with the Furies to accept the trial's verdict and to transform themselves into "most loved of gods, with me to show and share fair mercy, gratitude and grace as fair." The Furies accept and are renamed the Eumenides or Kindly Ones.

14. How would you compare The Kindly Ones to other books you have read about World War II and the Holocaust, fictional or non-fictional? It has been called highly original. What new perspective does it contribute to World War II and Holocaust literature?

I liked the historical parts of the book. To be a part of the thinking of the Nazi/German people but I cannot like this book. It leaves you feeling defiled. The sexual content, the body secrets are unnecessary to the book and I did not appreciate it at all. I will not want to reread this one.

15. If you could ask Jonathan Littell one question about this novel, what would it be?

My question would be along the lines of how can someone so very screwed up as a human being settle into a marriage, have children, and prosper at a business. I don't buy it.


Diane Zwang | 1315 comments Mod
11. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole - or the character of Maximilien Aue?

For me the book was less about the horrors of war and more about Max Aue. Max never thought he was guilty of anything. He seemed to be painted as a sociopath. I am still processing it all and trying to figure out what the author was going for.

12. Why does Jonathan Littell present the policemen Clemens and Weser in somewhat caricatured fashion?

There were parts to the story that really made sense to me regarding Clemens and Weser. The war was coming to an end, the Germans are losing ground and these two officers are in hot pursuit of Aue. The symbolism of all it crashing down worked for me but then the mad luck of Max Aue starts again.

13. The title The Kindly Ones comes from Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. Why do you think the author in some way modelled Max Aue on Orestes, who also killed his mother and her lover, and had a relationship with his sister? What do you think he was saying? What other literary allusions are there in the novel?

Again the million dollar question. I am still not sure what the author is trying to tell me. Aue is a really vile character who has no redeeming qualities. How the book ends really makes me think that the character was a sociopath.

14. How would you compare The Kindly Ones to other books you have read about World War II and the Holocaust, fictional or non-fictional? It has been called highly original. What new perspective does it contribute to World War II and Holocaust literature?

I agree this book is highly original but one I would not recommend as it is too far off the beaten path. It is hard to get past all of Max's perverted thoughts and bodily functions to focus on the war and atrocities.

15. If you could ask Jonathan Littell one question about this novel, what would it be?

What is the fascination with poo?


Diane Zwang | 1315 comments Mod
Kristel wrote: "11. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole ..."

Kristel
I don't buy it either. I don't think this character could have married and settled down with children either.


Chinook | 282 comments 1. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole - or the character of Maximilien Aue?

I think it’s left open so that you have to think it through yourself.

Someone referred to him as a pedophile and I don’t think that’s supported. His talk of boys relates to when he was at boarding school - and also a boy - and boys who are soldiers - so how young can they be? And he’s certainly not much older, having just graduated from university when the war starts.

I mean, he’s got some weird fetishes and he’s committed incest, but it seems to me that he isn’t out there having non-consensual sex. He fantasizes about some disturbing stuff, but I can’t see condemning someone for their fantasies.

Then - the other soldier with the similar head wound who commits acts of violence and rage he can’t control. I can only assume this character is introduced to allow for the possibility that Aue is also having this issue, for example when he kills his mother and stepfather.

He clearly would in this day and age, be seen as someone with acute mental issues as the result of his war service - and I think were he an American soldier, for example, we’d mentally allow ourselves to pity him for that.

So then, does he have a moral responsibility to go against his entire society, even if that would condemn him? He is, after all, involved in his position because it was that or be charged with sodomy. He isn’t exactly acting from a position of power, considering his sexuality and the risks it carried then. That homophobia also gets him sent to Staligrad, after all, where I’m sure the assumption was that he would die.

And, is his concern for the rations and supplies of the concentration camp inmates, his desire for them to have adequate transport to the camps and enough food to do work and supplies for the forced marches - is all this wiped out because he does these things with the idea of making people work for the Reich?

I don’t see why this character couldn’t settle down with children and be married. It’s not as if historically married men haven’t been some of the worst for committing acts of violence and abuse. He says nothing about being a good husband and father, after all. And it seems that his personality is largely about trying to fit into what is expected of him by wider society, while indulging his own intellectualism. I can buy that he is able to adapt to peacetime society.

12. Why does Jonathan Littell present the policemen Clemens and Weser in somewhat caricatured fashion?

Perhaps it’s just because it was so long and so brutal, but it felt almost comic at the end. These police officers showing up at the most ridiculous time and then him killing his friend to escape in the midst of dying animals in a zoo. I think they also provided a contrast between the crimes he committed on a grand scale, especially through the bureaucracy that he was so engaged in, and a more commonplace sort of crime, against a family member.

13. The title The Kindly Ones comes from Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. Why do you think the author in some way modelled Max Aue on Orestes, who also killed his mother and her lover, and had a relationship with his sister? What do you think he was saying? What other literary allusions are there in the novel?

I think that perhaps this was meant to make the crimes and inhumanity and human nature that allows these things feel seomwnat timeless - these horrible things have happened before. The implication being, I guess, that they will happen again.

It also made me wonder about what the rate of incest is, in the general population. You hear a lot about abuse, and some about sort of sexual play between siblings or friends, but I wonder if consensual incest is incredibly rare or maybe not. It certainly comes up an awful lot in literature.

14. How would you compare The Kindly Ones to other books you have read about World War II and the Holocaust, fictional or non-fictional? It has been called highly original. What new perspective does it contribute to World War II and Holocaust literature?

For me, I hadn’t quite heard the long term plans for world domination by the Nazis expressed quite like this. I knew certainly that they claimed they needed living space, but I hadn’t realized previously how much detail there was about those plans.

15. If you could ask Jonathan Littell one question about this novel, what would it be?

The section at his sister’s house. Why did that go on for as long as it did? I didn’t especially feel that the sexual imagery in that section did much to advance the plot or character development and it went on for quite some time. Was it just to really make the reader uncomfortable?

The obsession with poo, I have to say, doesn’t at all bother me. I’m in my fourth year of changing diapers - and cloth diapers, so I also have to dispose of the poop and wash the diapers. Of all the things that happen in this book, that did not even make me blink an eye.


Gail (gailifer) | 1536 comments 11. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole - or the character of Maximilien Aue?

I found that it kept me intrigued as to whether Littell's initial premise; that anyone could find themselves doing the things Dr. Aue did, was a valid one. If Aue or any of the key characters had expressed significant guilt or remorse, it would have been easier for me to put them in a category that I could more easily dismiss, because they would have known that they did something truly horrible.

12. Why does Jonathan Littell present the policemen Clemens and Weser in somewhat caricatured fashion?

I think that they are sometimes comic relief, and sometimes stand in's for the reader's desire to see justice done and Dr. Aue punished for his crimes. They also reflect the Furies (or Kindly Ones) who pursue justice. I think the fact that they kept showing up even when in reality they could not possibly be in Berlin at the very bitter end and still be after Aue, keeps the fact that Dr. Aue has no guilt in the top of mind for the reader.

13. The title The Kindly Ones comes from Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. Why do you think the author in some way modelled Max Aue on Orestes, who also killed his mother and her lover, and had a relationship with his sister? What do you think he was saying? What other literary allusions are there in the novel?

The book is full of references to music and literature and some philosophy. I think that the Furies were known for pursuing justice and vengeance, in particular against people who had murdered family members. One of the ways that they obtained justice was by driving the guilty mad. If Dr. Aue and his fellow Nazi were "mad" then again, we as a civilization are off the hook just a touch. However, Littell seems to clearly want us to see this inhumanity to man both on a massive level and on a more intimate level to be well within human's normal behavior therefore forcing us to look at ourselves more closely.

14. How would you compare The Kindly Ones to other books you have read about World War II and the Holocaust, fictional or non-fictional? It has been called highly original. What new perspective does it contribute to World War II and Holocaust literature?

I have read quite a bit about the Holocaust but less about the "war" in regards to army movements and where the front lines were drawn. I found Littel's presentation of the war as being about developing a civilization, as reflecting a particular philosophy that the German people felt that they were fighting for and willingly suffering for unique for me. It is an interesting counterpoint to the idea that the Germans just wanted more land, power, and a war economy to take them out of the depression. There are many books about what exactly the average German knew and felt about the war and the concentration camps. The Reader is one in which one experiences this question. However, in The Kindly Ones, the issue is presented very differently. There is no blame placed but equally there is no one let off the hook. Also he presented the war as being largely a matter of bureaucracy instead of battles. Although we found ourselves at key moments in the war such as Stalingrad and the end in Berlin, it was largely a book about discussions of what exactly was a Jew, whether the Jews should be used for war production rather than killed, the intrigues and backstabbing of the multiple and overlapping departments in authority. All of this bureaucracy interspersed with Dr. Aue's personal story was often jarring but sometimes a relief.

15. If you could ask Jonathan Littell one question about this novel, what would it be?

I do not have to deal with diapers and the poo was getting too much for me. I also agree with Chinook that the section at his sister's house was too much for no clear reason I could think of. I guess the bigger question for me would be why, if his major point was to have us reflect on exactly what humans are capable of, why his main character was so far from ordinary. I totally understand that his being far from ordinary made him someone unique to contemplate and therefore kept me reading but I wonder if it was necessary to make him SO not ordinary particularly in the section in his sister's house. However, maybe that is just me and my prejudices. I would also ask him if he had it to write over again what he would change. I am wondering if looking back on it years later he found it too long.



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message 8: by Pip (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pip | 1481 comments 11. The character of Max Aue is an attempt to create a plausible character without providing the reader with answers to how evil arises and without sermonising about how it happened. This is precisely why it is so successful.

12. These characters are exaggerations and somewhat far-fetched, but I don't have an explanation of why Littell portrayed them that way.


Diane  | 2051 comments 11. The author made a difficult yet firm decision not to explicitly raise the issue of guilt or remorse. What has he achieved by that decision in terms of how the reader reads the novel as a whole - or the character of Maximilien Aue?
I think it allowed the reader to form their own conclusions. Was Max not overtly showing guilt or remorse because he was a sociopath or because he was internalizing all of his guilt because it was too much for him to fathom?

12. Why does Jonathan Littell present the policemen Clemens and Weser in somewhat caricatured fashion?
I'm not really sure. I think they were supposed to represent "The Furies" in Greek Mythology, but I'm not sure about the comic fashion.

13. The title The Kindly Ones comes from Aeschylus's trilogy, The Oresteia. Why do you think the author in some way modelled Max Aue on Orestes, who also killed his mother and her lover, and had a relationship with his sister? What do you think he was saying? What other literary allusions are there in the novel?
In The Orestreia, it was the job of the furies to exact vengeance on murderers, particularly people who killed family members. Orestes had to go to trial for his crimes.

14. How would you compare The Kindly Ones to other books you have read about World War II and the Holocaust, fictional or non-fictional? It has been called highly original. What new perspective does it contribute to World War II and Holocaust literature?
Most literature about WWII and the Holocaust focuses on the victims of the war or soldiers fighting on the Allied side. There aren't many books from the point of view of the "enemy". I think it is important to see all perspectives, even if it is hard to understand the German's rationale.

15. If you could ask Jonathan Littell one question about this novel, what would it be?
I have a lot of questions. I like what other said about the scatological nature of the book. Was the killing of innocent beings not horrible enough - why did you obsess on bodily fluids too?


message 10: by Pip (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pip | 1481 comments I need a new laptop. twice I have answered the last few questions, and twice they have disappeared into the ether! I will try one last time:
13. The Kindly Ones, as I understand them, were Furies who avenged wrongdoing, but people referred to them as The Kindly Ones as an euphemism to prevent them exacting revenge on anyone who spoke about them. An apposite title! There were many other literary references because Aue read Plato, Flaubert and many others whom I have forgotten.
14. This is so different from anything else I have read because the protagonist is a Nazi officer and Littell creates a plausible reason for his actions and rationalisations. Aue may not be typical, he was guilty of matricide, probably, incest certainly, and later homosexual. But he is also cultured, well read and interested in good wine and architecture. How can someone who appreciates beauty be complicit in the Final Solution? It is a thought-provoking work.
15. Why did you decide to write in French?


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