I took a group of high school students to Germany. We went to Dachau outside of Munich. I had explained carefully what happened here. Still, as we approached the bus parking lot, the area around it was neatly mowed and had a park-like appearance. Across the street was a McDonalds. Incongrous to say the least....
On the way to Williamsburg, I pressed my companions for a stop in Washington, to see the new Holocaust museum. We were given an identity tag to wear of an actual victim. As we entered the elevator it had the appearance of a railroad boxcar. We spent hours looking at photgraphs and artifacts like thousands of shoes of children murdered by the Nazi killing machine. When we left I had the worst migraine of my life.
Each generation needs to learn of this human atrocity and never forget it. I have read many books on this subject in that spirit. With that in mind, I obtained and read The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. Nearly a thousand pages long, it has been falsely compared to Tolstoys War and Peace. Awarded the top prize for literature in France, I had hoped that it would measure up to that standard. It didn't.
I must say that I did intend to write a real review of this book. The fact is, I am unable to articulate all the reasons I found it to be the worst book I ever read. Opinion among the experts is somewhat divided about it. Mine is not. If you want to learn about the historical unfolding of the German invasion of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and its consequences, there are hundreds of books that do a better job. Hannah Arendt, watching Adoph Eichmann at his trial, explained the psychology of the bureaucrats who managed the murder operation. She coined the phrase,
the "banality of evil." My phrase to characterize this awful book would be "historical pornography." I will let it rest there.
The New Yorker covers: July 2, 1932
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