The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell is easily one of the hardest books I have ever had to read and that isn’t such a good thing. It takes up quite a lot of time and is filled to the brim with esoteric details about German army, historical facts and the mechanisms about World War II. By the end you are drained, by the intense details the reader can get bogged down in, as well as the appalling acts our narrator commits throughout it’s 975 pages. For while this book is a chore to read for far too many pages, within them lie scenes that are shocking and gruesome, and are destined to leave a mark long after reading them. It also does the amazing thing of asking certain questions about morality and culpability about a dark time in history that many people won’t ask, or are afraid to. Our narrator, a Dr. Max Aue, is, at the beginning of the novel, living a life as a French factory owner with a loving family. He soon tells us this is in fact a façade he has intricately fabricated for himself after the things he did for the Nazi’s during the war. We learn he is very smart man, knowing a lot about books, history and philosophy. We also learn, through his many heinous acts, that he is a brutal, yet rather empty psychopath whose tendencies were brought forth out of him by the kinds of atrocities that the Nazi’s perpetrated. The main problem with this book is how long it is. Littell rarely leaves any details out, and the narrative gets lost in the long shuffle through many unindented lines of prose. But the real treats in the novel deal with the little scenes of cruelty we witness, from the sad death of a boy piano prodigy, to the disgusting thing he does with a sausage in a refrigerator in one of his flashbacks. And it asks questions about what kind of punishment he should have received. Was he psychopath, or did this world without conscious or love simply make him a harmful monster instead of a harmless one? If you can get through (some won’t), this is a very thought-provoking novel.