Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (originally published in French in 2006 as Les Bienveillantes) features Nazis, incest, and tons of human excrement — literally, tons. It is a novel thus difficult to ignore. Also, it is huge. When you plop it down on a bar in the East Village, for instance, people stop and take notice. Everything about it says serious novel, important novel. People have stopped me on the subway just to ask what I’m reading. It is a novel that calls out for attention. Sometimes I carry it around for that purpose alone. It is heavy, potentially dangerous, and dripping in European (particularly French) sensibility.

That is also why Americans have, so far, largely ignored it. The ultimate arbiter of American, educated middlebrow taste, The New Yorker could only bring itself to mention the book in its “Books Briefly Noted” section. They dispatch it in a terse paragraph:

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