2009 Books in Translation Chunkster Historical Fiction Other Prizes

The Kindly Ones Read-along

Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell

Winner of 2006 Prix Goncourt and the grand prix du roman of Académie française, Literary Review’s bad sex in fiction award 2009, 2010 Best Translated Book Award: Fiction Longlist, 2010 long list Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The Kindly Ones has been haunting me for a while. It seems to have won every prize it is eligible for, and people keep mentioning it along-side words such as controversial, powerful and disturbing. Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that all these things make a book attractive to me. The problem is that it is nearly 1000 pages long and it does seem to be the most disturbing book ever written. I am sure that this book will give me nightmares, but I am hoping that it will be worth it in the end.

The book is a fictional biography of a Holocaust exectioner. I think the tone of the book can be summarised by this quote I found on page 21:

This path is very rarely the result of any choice, or even personal predilection. The victims, in the vast majority of cases, were not tortured or killed because they were good any more than the executioners tormented them because there were evil.

Yesterday I went into my local library in the search for Orange books. A small pile of Kindly Ones was sitting on a table, calling to me. It didn’t look as though anyone had ever checked one out and so on the spur of the moment I took a copy home with me.

A brief conversation on twitter followed in which several people questioned whether I’d finish it before it is due back (3 weeks) and a few warned me that it isn’t an easy read. Then Elle from Gleeful Reader volunteered to join me in reading this chunkster and a read-along was born. I apologise for the lack of notice, the fast pace of the reading (50 pages a day) and the fact I probably won’t get much else read for the next few weeks, but I am keen to follow my reading whims and this book just intrigued me too much. I would love it if a few of you would join us, but realise it is unlikely at such short notice. I have created a google wave (see below) for the discussion so that the blog won’t become cluttered with a conversation that few people are part of. The great thing is that the Wave will always exist, so if you decide to read the book in the future then you can always join in the discussion then.

Wish us luck!

Does The Kindly Ones appeal to you?

I have created a Wave for The Kindly Ones read-along. Unfortunately some nasty bot corrupted it so I have had to create a new one visible only to those I invite.  If you would like to join the discussion then just let me know and I’ll add you to the wave. If you’ like an invite to Google Wave then just email me using the contact form in the top right-hand corner of my blog.



37 replies on “The Kindly Ones Read-along”

I think I would be reading this along with you if not for the Orange Prize longlist. I picked it up during a Waterstones browse last week and happily read the first few pages. I made myself put it down again because it is *huge* and I can’t give it the attention it deserves at the moment. I tend to like my books quite dark, but only if the darkness is necessary to the plot and theme; I don’t like books that pile on the controversy for shock value. I’ve heard mixed things about The Kindly Ones in that regard, so I’ll be interested to read your thoughts.

Victoria, Sorry I didn’t pick a better timing for you. I’m not going to start reading the Orange list in earnest until the short list is announced, so I should have plenty of time to read this one.

I have now read 70 pages of the book and it is packed with contraversy, but I think it is a story that needs to be told and it wouldn’t work without including all the shocking details of the story. It will be interesting to see how it develops and hope that you will join our wave discussion when you get the time to read it.

I really want to read this book, too, Jackie. I think I told you I bought it in hardcover, long before it won most of these awards, because I’m fascinated by the subject matter. (I did a 6,000-word essay on how the Third Reich used the media to their advantage when I did my Masters in Journalism.) However, I have so many other book/reading obligations at the moment, I won’t be able to join your readalong.

If you like this one, you might be interested in the work by an absolutely brilliant British-based Austrian born journalist, Gitta Sereny. Her biography of Albert Speer is one the most profound books I’ve ever read — and at more than 750 pages of superfine print not a quick read but hugely rewarding. She also wrote one about Franz Stangl, the chap who oversaw the Treblinka death camp, and she’s got a collection of essays about the Third Reich called “The German Trauma”, which puts her life into context in an around the Nazis and their legacy. I really ought to write a post about her…honestly, she’s one of my journalistic heroes.

kimbofo, I have heard of Gitta Sereny – Sandy from ‘You’ve Gotta Read This’ raves about Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder and so I have had that on my wish list for a while. You might want to give that a try if you haven’t read it already. I will get round to reading her books at some point, but I think one traumatic Holocaust book might be enough for one year!

Into That Darkness is the one about Franz Stangl. I’ve read all her stuff, bar the one about prostitution which is long out of print.

Cries Unheard, about the child murderer Mary Bell, is also highly recommended. I think every parent, teacher, social worker and police officer should read this one.

You know, I tend not to be all that interested in WWII fiction (though I’ve read a bunch of it), but this does sound really interesting. It certainly has a different angle. But you know that I fear chunksters, and right now I just have so much reading I need to get through of my own… but I really look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book! It may very well wind up on my queue one of these days!

Steph, Hopefully we can persuade you to add it to the TBR pile, but I can understand having a queue of books to read – my stack is getting very tall and wobbly!

I will cheer y’all on but wait to see what people think of this one before I try it myself. Very best of luck! I hope it’s as wonderful as you’ve heard!

I have this on the TBR pile as the publishers kindly sent me a copy, however with book group, etc, etc this is one I am planning on reading when I go on holiday (not the cheeriest read but I will be on a beach in the sun so that should help) so sadly won’t be joining in on this though its one very much on my radar.

That wave thing does really weird things to your posts on my computer and I cant read the main content which is very odd as its the latest windows with all the updated gadgets, it might just be me but thought would let you know. Good luck with this one though be interested to see your thoughts at the end.

Simon, I can understand that it might be nice to read this in the sun – it might help to distance you from the atrocities.

Google wave doesn’t work in a lot of internet browsers. Are you using internet explorer? Wave works best with firefox so that is probably why it isn’t working for you. Thanks for letting me know!

Simon’s not the only one. This post, with the addition of the Google Wave graphics, does weird things to my computer screen as well. I’m on a Mac using Firefox. It “corrupts” on Safari too.

Good luck getting through this chunkster, Jackie!

I have to admit, I am not intrigued by this one at all. Some of the early U.S. reviews of the book made me cringe re: content…it just doesn’t sound like something I want to spend 1000 pages with…but I will be very interested to read your final thoughts on the book. Apparently the book has done very well in Europe but has met with lukewarm reception in the U.S. – maybe a comment on U.S. readers!??!?!

Wendy, It is very interesting to know that this book wasn’t well received in the US. Jonathan Littell is actually an American and only wrote it in French as a tribute to his favourite authors, Stendhal and Flaubert. Hopefully I can persuade a few Americans that it is worth reading!

Jackie – best of luck with this. I have picked it up and put it down more than once at the library. It looks more manageable in paperback though. I’m slowly making my way through Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears which is chunky enough just now but will look out for your posts with interest..

Tracey, I’m really pleased to hear that you’re reading Stone’s Fall – I hope that you love it as much as I did.

I am finding The Kindly Ones much quicker/easier than I expected it to be. I am at p100 already – I hope you pick it up at some point.

No, I don´t think it appeals to me. It is important that we know about Holocaust, but I don´t like reading novels about it. It is so much scarier than crime novels because it was real and so horribly evil!

Dorte, Books based on real events have a much greater impact on me too. I’m hoping that this enables me to see things from a different perspective.

This is a big one isn’t it? Given that I seem to have the attention span of a gnat right now, I don’t think a read-along is in the cards. But I will be interested to see how it is so that if and when my brain comes back from holiday, I’ll know whether to pick it up for myself.

Good luck with The Kindly Ones. I was really interested when I first heard about it, but then with all the controversy and reviews that seemed either to love it or hate it, I’m not sure it’s the book for me–at least right now. I’ll be very curious to see what you make of it, though, as I haven’t heard anything from bloggers I follow. And I had heard of Google Wave but not seen it–must check it out.

Danielle, If you need a google wave invite then just let me know. This book is packed with contraversy. It will be interesting to see what I think of it by the end.

I’ve been really curious about this book. I don’t have a copy of it on hand, and I’m sure I couldn’t keep the pace, so I won’t be joining you. That said, I am very eager to hear your thoughts, so I can consider whether it’s worth the immense committment it would be to read 1000 pages!

Megan, Sorry to hear that our pace put you off. Hopefully we’ll be able to fill you in and you can decide whether it is worth putting aside the time to read this chunkster.

I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think of this one Jackie so I will follow your read along with interest. I won’t jump in just yet though – plenty of other books on the pile at the moment! I have been intrigued by this one a few times though so it will be good to hear more…

DamnedConjuror, It is going a lot slower than I had hoped. I’ve only read 300 pages so far. I am finding it so disturbing that I can’t read that much at once. I’m interested to see how it ends, as it isn’t heading in the direction I expected it to so far.

DamnedConjuror, I expected it to show that the Holocaust executioners had no choice – they had to follow orders or be killed themselves. So far he seems to had lots of options to get out of it.

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