Jonathan Littell

October 31st, 2009

Jonathan Littell Introduction to author Jonathan Littell, whose controversial novel The Kindly Ones won two French prizes.

It’s not often that writing a novel wins an author citizenship in France–or any other country–but that particular prize was given to American-born Jonathan Littell after his 900-page French-language novel, The Kindly Ones, was awarded two of France’s most prestigious literary awards, the Grand Prix du roman de l’Academie Francaise and the Prix Goncourt, both in 2006.

Littell received French citizenship in March 2007, when French officials made use of a clause stating that any French speaker whose “meritorious actions contribute to the glory of France” may become citizens, despite not fulfilling a requirement to live in France for more than six months of the year.

His novel The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes) tells the story of a former SS officer who helped carry out massacres during the Holocaust. It received mixed reviews in the United States; Publishers Weekly’s Jonathan Segura said that the novel’s “monotone voice quickly loses its luster” and “many tens of thousands of words does not necessarily a novel make.”

Littell, born in New York in 1967, is a bilingual (English/French) writer living in Barcelona. He has cited seeing a photograph of Zoya Mosmodemyanskaya, a Soviet partisan who was executed by the Nazis, as one inspiration for writing the novel. His original inspiration for the novel, he has said, was seeing Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah, an acclaimed documentary about the Holocaust, in 1989.

Littell’s father is Robert Littell, author of mostly spy novels concerning the CIA and the Soviet Union. He lives in France.

Jonathan Littell lived in France from age three until his early teens, when he attended school in the United States, and he later graduated from Yale University.

– Catherine Arnold
Literature Monthly


A Powerful Carpe Diem Novel!

October 31st, 2009

Review of Roman Payne’s new novel: ‘Rooftop Soliloquy’

“Like Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’, Lord Byron’s story of Don Juan, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and a Paris Travel guide all poured into one great 21st century read. Payne has created a new Parisian mythology.”

Rooftop Soliloquy by Novelist Roman Payne

Rooftop Soliloquy by Novelist Roman Payne

A modern-day Casanova, with a half- crazy mind and elegant clothing, tramps around Paris from adventure to adventure in this latest (and perhaps greatest) book by American expatriate author Roman Payne.  While this Don Juan gallops around Paris like Don Quixote galloped around Spain, his numerous ‘Dulcineas’ are the luxurious ladies he finds in Parisian society parties, or the university girls he finds along the river Seine, or up near the Sorbonne; whereas Quixote fought windmills, Payne’s hero battles the artistic oeuvre he is working to create.

The narrator (most frequently named ‘Aleksandre’) of this highly-entertaining, innocently erotic, and lyrically beautiful book, is a composer of operas who isn’t sure if he should lock himself in one of the many apartments he keeps in Paris to compose night and day; or if he should go out and ‘seize the day!’ by enjoying the thrills offered to one in the French capital—not least important among them: copious amounts of French wine, and lavish French beauties.

Payne’s experience as a novelist shows through in this, his fourth novel, as he masterfully weaves two other narratives into the first, to create a rich and thought-provoking story.  If not for this, the novel might have been no more than a light adventure tale; but Payne tops off the narrator’s corporeal quest with a murder mystery (with scenes worthy of Dostoevsky in a setting Payne calls “The Bone Shop”) and a love story (vaguely reminiscent of Lolita and A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  References in the book travel from Ancient Greece to tropical islands—yet the book is first-and-foremost a ‘story of Paris.’  Like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Lord Byron’s story of Don Juan, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and a Paris Travel guide all poured into one great 21st century read. Payne has created a new Parisian mythology.

The 1st-person “Soliloquy” method of narration allows Payne a sort of freedom to communicate with unprecedented ease with the reader.  One imagines him perched like a bird on a rooftop, fluttering to a new district with each chapter.

Rooftops are fabulous (often frightening) locations: here, one can see out over the city,  meet a lover in private; contemplate life, or contemplate a self-propelled leap into the abyss of the unknown.  On a rooftop, one is a ‘spectator’—watching the comings and goings of the multitudes bustling in the streets below.  One is also ‘not a spectator,’ but the  ‘center of the universe’—like a god, or a child atop an anthill.   Such is the perspective that is offered to the reader of this book.  Its pages allow a certain airy freedom that is fun, exciting, and refreshing to those who are used to reading books with sad subjects or negative themes.  Rooftop Soliloquy is a pleasure to read.  One begins the book feeling curious, and one finishes it feeling happy. ≈

– Reactor Magazine
(Reprinted in Literature Monthly with permission from Reactor Magazine)