27 July 2012

Kindly Ones

"Death! Death to the Jew! Yes. Let's repeat it. Death! Death to the Jew! Now!" in Monsieur le Commandant by Romain Slocombe

Monsieur le Commandant (Mister Major) is not without reminding Jonathan Littell's novel, The Kindly Ones, in its depiction of what goes through the mind of someone who's on the "wrong" side of the war, the "evil" side. But what would one have really done then?

In Littell's story, the narrator is an SS officer; in Slocombe's tale, a famous French writer, war hero of WWI but also anti-Jewish, writes a long denunciation letter to the Major of the German army unit occupying his village. In fact, the entire novel consists entirely of the single letter the intellectual is sending to the German, in which he has a terrible secret to share: he has fallen in love with his daughter in law, a Jew. The fallacious arguments and justifications can only terrify the reader with dread, but the emotional contradictions of the narrator show once again how terribly human he is.

How can one fall so low? How can one deflect one's own responsibility in actions committed by oneself? How can (supposedly) moral values, inspired by whatever irrational belief, lead to condemning someone else to death? The book is frightening in its extremely realistic tone. It happened for real – and may well happen again. If that's the dreadful case, what side will you really be then on?

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