Jonathan Littell

The Kindly Ones

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“Simply astounding. . . . The Kindly Ones is unmistakably the work of a profoundly gifted writer.” — Time
A literary prize-winner that has been an explosive bestseller all over the world, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones has been called “a brilliant Holocaust novel… a world-class masterpiece of astonishing brutality, originality, and force,” and “relentlessly fascinating, ambitious beyond scope,” by Michael Korda (Ike, With Wings Like Eagles). Destined to join the pantheon of classic epics of war such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, The Kindly Ones offers a profound and gripping experience of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.
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    Per Hedemand Nielsenhar citeretfor 3 år siden
    ordered Hanning.
    At the foot of the Mashuk, I sent Hanning back to the AOK and went by the Academic Gallery to the Pushkin baths, which the Wehrmacht had partially reopened for its convalescents. There I stripped naked and plunged my body into the scalding, brackish, sulfurous water. I stayed in it for a long time and then rinsed myself off in a cold shower. This treatment reinvigorated my body and soul: my skin was mottled red and white, and I felt more awake, almost light. I returned to my quarters and lay down for an hour, my feet crossed on the sofa, facing the open French window. Then I changed and went down to the AOK to find the car I had requested that morning. On the way, I smoked and contemplated the volcanoes and the soft blue mountains of the Caucasus. Night was already setting in; it was fall. Entering Kislovodsk, the road passed the Podkumok; below, peasants’ carts were fording the river; the last one, just a board on wheels, was pulled by a camel with long hair and a thick neck. Hohenegg was waiting for me at the Kasino. “You look fit,” he said when he saw me.—“I’m a new man. But I had a strange day.”—“Tell me all about it.” Two bottles of white wine from the Palatinate were waiting next to the table in ice buckets: “I had those sent to me by my wife.”—“You’re in a class by yourself, Doktor.” He uncorked the first one: the wine was cool and bit the tongue, leaving behind it a fruity caress. “How is your conference going?” I asked him.—“Very well. We’ve gone over cholera, typhus, and dysentery, and now we’re coming to the painful subject of frostbite.”—“It’s not the season for that yet.”—“It will be soon enough. And you?” I told him about the old Bergjude. “A wise man, this Nahum ben Ibrahim,” he commented when I had finished. “We can envy him.”—“You’re probably right.” Our table was placed right against a partition; behind it was a private booth, from which laughter and bursts of indistinct voices were emanating. I drank a little wine. “Still,” I added, “I have to admit that I had trouble understanding him.”—“Not me,” Hohenegg asserted. “You see, in my view there are three possible attitudes faced with this absurd life. First the at
    Per Hedemand Nielsenhar citeretfor 3 år siden
    attitude of the mass, hoi polloi, which simply refuses to see that life is a joke. They don’t laugh at it, but work, accumulate, masticate, defecate, fornicate, reproduce, get old, and die like oxen harnessed to the plow, as idiotic as they lived. That’s the large majority. Then there are those, such as me, who know that life is a joke and who have the courage to laugh at it, like the Taoists or your Jew. Finally there are those, and if my diagnosis is correct you are one of them, who know that life is a joke, but who suffer from it. It’s like your Lermontov, whom I’ve finally read: I zhizn takaya pustaya i glupaya shutka, he writes.” I knew enough Russian now to understand and complete the phrase: “He should have added: i grubaya, ‘an empty, stupid and dirty joke.’”—“He certainly thought of it. But it wouldn’t have scanned right.”—“Those who have that attitude do know, however, that the other laughing one exists,” I said.—“Yes, but they don’t manage to adopt it.”
    Per Hedemand Nielsenhar citeretfor 3 år siden
    the hole. “Now is it all right?” I finally asked. “A little more. I want a grave that’s as comfortable as my mother’s womb.”—“Hanning,” I called, “come spell me.” The pit was now chest level and he had to help me climb out. I put my jacket and cap back on, and smoked while Hanning started digging again. I kept looking at the mountains; I couldn’t get enough of the view. The old man was looking too. “You know, I was disappointed I wasn’t to be buried in my valley, near the Samur,” he said. “But now I understand that the angel is wise. This is a beautiful place.”—“Yes,” I said. I glanced to the side: Hanning’s rifle was lying on the grass next to his cap, as if abandoned. When Hanning’s head had just cleared the ground, the old man declared he was satisfied. I helped Hanning get out. “And now?” I asked.—“Now, you have to put me inside. What? You think God is going to send me a thunderbolt?” I turned to Hanning: “Rottwachtmeister. Put your uniform back on and shoot this man.” Hanning turned red, spat on the ground, and swore. “What’s wrong?”—“With respect, Herr Hauptsturmführer, for special tasks, I have to have an order from my superior.”—“Leutnant Reuter put you at my disposal.” He hesitated: “Well, all right,” he finally said. He put his jacket, his big crescent neck plate, and his cap back on, brushed off his pants, and seized his rifle. The old man had positioned himself at the edge of the grave, facing the mountains, and was still smiling. Hanning shouldered his rifle and aimed it at the old man’s neck. Suddenly I was overcome with anguish. “Wait!” Hanning lowered his rifle and the old man turned his head toward me. “And my grave,” I asked him, “have you seen that too?” He smiled: “Yes.” I sucked in my breath, I must have turned pale, a vain anguish filled me: “Where is it?” He kept smiling: “That, I won’t tell you.”—“Fire!” I shouted to Hanning. Hanning raised his rifle and fired. The old man fell like a marionette whose string has been cut all at once. I went up to the grave and leaned over: he was lying at the bottom like a sack, his head turned aside, still smiling a little into his blood-splattered beard; his open eyes, turned toward the wall of earth, were also laughing. I was trembling. “Close that up,” I curtly

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