WWII Nazi Opus Ignites Passions (Pro and Con)

Publishers roll dice on shocking French work by Yank Jonathan Littell
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2009 10:10 AM CST
Jonathan Littell, an American author who wrote a 1,000-page French novel about the Holocaust, speaks in Paris.   (Wikimedia)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – A novel about a Nazi officer with a taste for sodomy and incest might not scream “bestseller”—especially at nearly 1,000 pages long and translated from French. Yet Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones topped charts in France and precipitated a bidding war among US publishers. HarperCollins paid a reported $1 million, but early reviews have been deeply polarized, the New York Times notes.

Some reviewers say The Kindly Ones is on par with War and Peace; Times critic Michiko Kakutani glossed it “pretentious” and “an odious stunt.” Barnes & Noble said it ordered copies in “bestseller quantity,” but there’s no guarantee Littell’s novel will turn a profit. No matter, says a Harper exec: “This is a book that is for the long run.”