I must say the ending left a sour taste in my mouth. The story just stopped. Never mind there was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was not even an end.
Did Aue go mad at the end? Why did he do what he did? If he became mad, why was he able to tell the story in such calmness and clarity up until the end? Or was he never crazy in the first place? What about national socialism? He never relinquished his views. Did the war and everything horrible that happened in the war make him give up? Or did his own crimes make him give up? Did he give up?
A million questions went unanswered. I guess that is perhaps what the author intended.
Aue was a fascinating character. I took pity on him, but at the same time, much like his unlucky friend Thomas, I was disappointed. Aue knew the answer and knew what things could’ve been. Yet at every crossroad with a way out, he turned the other side. Out of his ego and out of his despair, he’d rather be destroyed than be saved. Aue knew it himself better than anyone: national socialism was but an excuse; an excuse for him to matter, to rebel against everything he saw that was against him. Against his mother, his step father, and his sister, whom he loved too much, Aue was a child, forever in rebellion, cursing at this world which wouldn’t let him have it his way. National socialism didn’t matter. The Jews didn’t matter. The dirty work didn’t matter. He was hurt, yet deep inside he wanted it to be that way.
Aue reminded his audience he was not afraid of death. Yet time and time again, he instinctively avoided it, consciously ran away from it, doing everything he could to prevent it. His murder of Thomas, a man of tremendous crime, yet of no personal guilt against Aue, was perhaps the fitting end. With Berlin burning, among ruins and corpses, Aue was in hell. Perhaps that is what Jonathan Littell is trying to convey. Hell, where flames rose to the sky, filled with the smell of corpses and gasoline, of urine and blood, never left Aue. He was in hell and still is.
The scariest of all, the most unpleasant feeling after reading this book: what would I do had I been in his position? Which path would I choose? Could I choose? Surrounded by madness, plagued by a haunting past, would I be any different?