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The Emperor of Liesby Steve Sem Sandberg
Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the August Prize, Swedens most important literary award
A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title
To be published in more than twenty-five languages
A major international literary event
“This is real literature. A great work of fiction.” —Per Svensson, Dagens Nyheter
In February 1940, the Nazis established what would become the second-largest Jewish ghetto, in the Polish city of Lódz. The leader they appointed was Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director—and the elusive, authoritarian power sustaining the ghettos very existence.
A haunting, profoundly challenging novel, The Emperor of Lies chronicles the tale of Rumkowskis monarchical rule over a quarter-million Jews for the next four and a half years. Driven by a titanic ambition, he sought to transform the ghetto into a productive industrial complex and strove to make it—and himself—indispensable to the Nazi regime. These compromises would have extraordinary consequences not only for Rumkowski but for everyone living in the ghetto. Drawing on the detailed records of life in Lódz, Steve Sem-Sandberg, in a masterful feat of literary imagination and empathy, captures the full panorama of human resilience and probes deeply into the nature of evil. Through the dramatic narrative, he asks the most difficult questions: Was Rumkowski a ruthless opportunist, an accessory to the Nazi regime motivated by a lust for power? Or was he a pragmatist who managed to save Jewish lives through his collaboration policies? How did the inhabitants of the ghetto survive in such extreme circumstances?
A critically acclaimed breakout bestseller in Sweden, The Emperor of Lies introduces a writer of great significance to American readers. The archives detail daily life in the Lodz ghetto, under the reign of Rumkowki, but it takes a writer with Sem-Sandbergs singular talent to help us understand the truth of this chilling history.
"Mammoth and crowded, this novel vividly illuminates the corner of history it portrays. In 1939 there were 320,000 Jews living in the Polish city of Ã…ÂÃ³dz, whose Jewish self-government, established by the Nazis, was led by Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a real historical figure, like many of this book's characters. Rumkowski, a childless widower and failed manufacturer, successfully runs orphanages, promising his charges safety even as he tells them lies. Hans Biebow, the Nazi head of the ghetto administration, believes that the hungry are the best workers; 'Workers with full stomachs get bloated.' Adam Rzepin is a Jewish boy devoted to his handicapped sister. These and many other characters fight for survival in the ghetto; some of the Jews make a fortune, but most survive on foul soup ('hot water with something greenish in it'), if they find food at all. Though Sem-Sandberg often writes with extraordinary detail (a section detailing the many ghetto suicides is terribly moving), as a novel, this book has many failings. Even characters whose mouths stream with verbiage remain underdeveloped; dialogue is often wooden and unconvincing. But as social history comes alive, it succeeds admirably in chronicling the horrors of everyday life in the Ã…ÂÃ³dz ghetto. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Fiction of true moral force, brilliantly sustained and achieved...I find it difficult to think of any book that has had such an immediate and powerful impact on me...Brave and brillant."—Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall
In February 1940, the Nazis established what would become the second-largest Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lódz. Its chosen leader: Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director. From one of Scandinavia's most critically acclaimed and bestselling authors, The Emperor of Lies chronicles the tale of Rumkowski's monarchical rule over a quarter million Jews. Driven by a titanic ambition, he sought to transform the ghetto into a productive industrial complex and strove to make it —and himself — indespensable to the Nazi regime. Drawing on the chronicles of life in the Lódz Ghetto, Steve Sem-Sandberg captures the full panorama of human resilience and asks the most difficult questions: Was Rumkowski a ruthless opportunist, an accessory to the Nazi regime driven by a lust for power? Or was he a pragmatic strategist who managed to save Jewish lives through his collaboration policies?
About the Author
Steve Sem-Sandberg was born in 1958. He divides his time between Vienna and Stockholm.
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