This winner of France’s highest literary award, the Goncourt, “The Kindly Ones” has Dr Max Aue revisiting his life, particularly his years in the SS intelligence division during Nazi rampage across Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. Aue is an intellectual, and what he sees his fellow soldiers do in the name of “service to the Reich” sickens him and other officers. But life in the army — any army — is rife with moral contradictions.
And so the book chronicles what Max Aue does and what he thinks about what he (and other soldiers) does. His ability to weigh intelligently the differences between civilian life (and intellectual study) and soldierly duty is fascinating … and troubling. I’m on page 136, and already the atrocities are piling up as high as the body count of civilian victims shot in cold blood in unmarked trenches outside their villages.
“Ever since the beginning of human history, war has always been regarded as the ultimate evil. But we had invented something compared to which war had come to seem clean and pure, something from which many were already trying to escape by taking refuge in the elementary certainties of war and the front.”
I’m waiting for the real story to kick in — I’ve read enough factual history about WWII’s atrocities; I’ve seen the Nazi film footage, too; so fiction needs to offer more — the story of Max Aue and his conscience and where all his learning is buried during these years (so far, he’s making wonderful allusions that make a read cringe).
But at 900+ pages, I can’t see myself going page by page with one massacre after another described in beautiful, chilling detail. There’s got to be something more.
To be continued ….
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.