Les Bienveillantes – Jonathan Littell


Flabbergasting. Incroyable. That an American might win the Tour de France – this doesn’t seem so extraordinary. But to receive one of France’s highest literary awards – bestowed by the highest of high: The French Academy of Literature – this should make headlines on the New York Times, The Washington Post, this is astounding.
Even moreso when you realize that the author, Johnathan Littell has churned out 894 pages IN FRENCH.(churn is probably not the right word here – judging by the first pages I’ve read, each sentence has been sweated out).
He was born in New York in 1967, and schooled in France. This is his first novel (in French). He had written an earlier sci-fi in English.

For my part, I’ll be glad if I can work my way through the 894 pages without having to run too many times for a French/English dictionary.
So far, I’ve gotten to page 35. This is the first person narrative of an SS officer after the war, living in France, who now runs a lace factory. (How does someone born in 1967 come up with this idea for a first novel? – that’s what I’d like to know!)
Rumor has it that Littell might even walk off with the Goncourt Prize which ranks with the Academy’s prize. It is extremely rare that one author wins both prizes for the same book.
This should be a good motivation for all you debutant French students. Work hard enough – you might actually become a literary titan – in French!

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