This article addresses criticisms of Jonathan Littell's 2006 novel about the Holocaust, Les bienveillantes. Littell's German critics largely panned the book for its lack of literary merit or as a failed contribution to historical scholarship on the genocide of European Jewry. The article questions the expectations of these German critics, their insistence on literary convention and almost proprietary claims to insight into the Holocaust. It is the departure of Les bienveillantes from “the novelistic aesthetic of the nineteenth century” that enables the novel's achievement as a portrait of perpetrators in all their human complexity.

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