The Kindly Ones, By Jonathan Littell

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The Independent Culture

"You might also have done what I did," smirks Dr Max Aue: jurist, aesthete, intellectual - and eager director of Nazi atrocities as an SS officer in the worst circles of wartime hell. Littell's mammoth investigation of civilised man's ability to commit the unthinkable, and then defend it, has recruited as many bitter enemies as passionate fans.

Grotesque, dismaying, chilling in its focus on the fine detail of barbarism, this epic of evil is also addictively readable. In Charlotte Mandell's translation from the French, Aue's voice never ceases to compel. Littell used to work for war-zone charities (from Chechnya to Congo): our long nightmare of cruelty, so his novel implies, persists.