The Good Soldier

This French epic of genocide and sodomy is the scandal of the season. Is it as shocking as they say?

C. Helie / AFP / Getty

Jonathan Littell was born in America, lives in Spain and writes in French.

Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones (Harper; 984 pages) is one of those brutalist European maxi-novels that periodically come soaring at us across the Atlantic as if lofted here by a trebuchet. The last one was Roberto BolaƱo's 2666, in November. You can recognize them by their seriousness of purpose, their wild overestimation of the reader's attention span and their interest in physical violence that makes Saw look like Dora the Explorer. It's as if these European writers are laughing at their prim American counterparts, with their fussy scruples, the way Sudanese warlords laugh at American gangsta rappers. "Violence?" they seem to...

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