Summary

This imposing Romanesque nearly nine hundred pages is the story back to the first person who Maximilian Aue, decades later, focuses on a crucial period of his life : participation in mass killings as an SS, between twenty and thirty-five years. It assumes, beyond good and evil, its commitment to the Nazi German people led by the Führer, having also most often an observer - he wrote reports to higher authorities of the SS - rather than executor, even if he happens to kill.

The narrator tells us - while making frequent setbacks in his childhood and youth - his years of war criminal, not moral confusion, even when it seems somatisation, accumulating vomiting and diarrhea.

The story of the horrors of Nazi war follows the chronology of the massacres on the Eastern front. Following the rhythm of the harpsichord works of Jean-Philippe Rameau, composer enjoyed the narrator, the author divided the book into seven parts: after an introductory toccata, successive Six danses du XVIIIe siecle (German I and II, current saraband , Menuet en Rondeau, air, jitter), which are in a dance macabre cynical, a Twilight of the gods that the red color of the mass murders and the black SS uniform.

  • « Toccata » In this introduction, we are introduced to the narrator and discover how he has ended up in France. He is the director of a lace factory, has a wife, children and grand children--though he continues his homosexual encounters when he travels on business. He hints of an incestuous love which we learn later was for his twin sister. He explains that he has decided to write about his experiences during the war for his own benefit and not as an attempt to justify himself, even though he insists that it took all kinds of men, good and bad, to make up the SS. He closes the introduction by saying, "I live, I do what is possible, it is the same for everyone, I am a man like the others, I am a man like you. Come along, I tell you, I am like you."
  • « Allemande I & II » Aue describes his life as a member of one of the Einsatzgruppen murder squads in the Ukraine, particularly in the Crimea, and in the Caucasus. He describes in detail the open air massacres of Jews and Bolsheviks behind the front lines (one of the massacres described is Babi Yar Massacre in Kiev, 1941). Although he seems to become increasingly indifferent to the atrocities he is witnessing, he begins to experience daily bouts of vomiting and suffers a mental breakdown. After taking sick leave, he returns to his unit to discover that a hostile superior officer has arranged that he be transferred to Stalingrad in 1942.
  • « Courante » Aue thus takes part in the last days of the battle of Stalingrad. As before, he is the soldier observer, the report writer rather than the combatant. In the midst of the chaos, violence and starvation, he manages to have a discussion with a Russian political commissar POW about the similarities between the Nazis and the Bolsheviks' world views and once again is able to indicate his intellectual support for Nazi ideas. He is seriously wounded in the head and is miraculously evacuated just before the German surrender in February 1943.
  • « Sarabande »Convalescing in Berlin, Maximilian Aue is awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class by Heinrich Himmler himself for his heroic action at Stalingrad. While still on sick leave, he decides to visit his mother and step-father in Antibes, in Italian occupied France. Apparently, while he is in a deep sleep, his mother and step-father are brutally murdered. Aue flees from the house without notifying anybody and returns to Berlin.
  • « Menuet en rondeaux » Aue is transferred to the Federal Ministry of the Interior headed by Himmler where he plays a managerial role for the concentration camps, struggling to improve the living conditions of those prisoners, selected to work in the factories as slave laborers, in order to improve their productivity. The reader meets top Nazi bureaucrats organizing the implentation of the Final Solution (i.e. Adolf Eichmann, Rudolf Höß, Himmler) and is given a glimpse of extermination camps (i.e. Auschwitz, Belzec); he also spends some time in Budapest just when preparations are being made for transporting Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. The reader witnesses the tug-a-war between those who are concerned with war production (Albert Speer) and those who are doggedly trying to implement the Final Solution. It is during this period that two SS police officers from the Kripo who are investigating the murders of his mother and step-father begin to visit him regularly, fury-like hounding and tormenting him with their questions which indicate their suspicions about his role in the crime.
  • « Air » Aue visits his sister and brother-in-law's empty house in Pomerania. There, he engages in a veritable autoerotic orgy particularly fueled by fantasy images of his twin sister. The two SS police officers follow his trail to the house, but he manages to hide from them.
  • « Gigue » Aue travels back to Berlin through enemy Soviet lines with his friend, Thomas who has come to rescue him. There he finds many of his colleagues preparing for escape in the chaos of the last days of the Third Reich, meets and is decorated by Hitler in the Führerbunker, escapes through the Berlin U-Bahn subway tunnels, and is finally rid of his police pursuers. He is finally faced by them, and blamed by the murdering of his family. However, his friend Thomas kill the last policeman only to be killed by Aue, who steals him the papers of a French conscripted worker. We know from the beginning of the book that his multilingualism will allow him to escape back to France with a new identity as a returning French man. The fact that he has managed to survive so many close calls and to escape successfully leads him to end the book with the statement: "The Kindly Ones had found me."
  • But in the end, all is not explicitly laid out for the reader, for Littell, in the words of one reviewer, "excels in the unsaid."