Writer’s Unlikely Hero: A Deviant Nazi

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FRANKFURT, Oct. 8 — With 903 pages of densely packed text, themes that range from incest to genocide, and an unrepentant Nazi SS officer as the hero, a new book by the American author Jonathan Littell does not seem an obvious candidate to be the toast of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

One more thing: It’s in French.

Yet “Les Bienveillantes,” which translates as “The Kindly Ones,” has taken the Frankfurt fair, the world’s largest booksellers’ convention, by storm. Publishing executives said they could not recall a book in recent memory that so dominated the chatter in the sprawling convention center or smoky restaurants, where authors, publishers, editors and literary agents gather each October....

“If I had to sell the book based on a one-line description, it wouldn’t be easy,” [Littell's agent] Mr. Nurnberg said in an interview. “ ‘The intimate memoirs of an ex-Nazi mass murderer,’ ” he ventured, with a nervous laugh.

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