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

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