I know I offered to review this for Stu’s Shadow Independent Foreign Fiction Prize team, but having plodded through the first 51 pages of 664, it’s quite clear to me that I don’t like it at all, and so I’m not going to read the rest of it.
Simon Schama at The Financial Times says it so much better than I ever could: whatever is the point? If you are disposed to try to understand the unfathomable Holocaust, this tawdry novel is not going to help you, and if it is the only book about the Holocaust that you read, its prurient violence may well put you off reading anything better.
The nastiest thing about it is that by fictionalising the factual – the culpability of one Jew in the murder of his fellow citizens – it essays the notion that Jews helped to bring about their own destruction on themselves. And in a mere 50 pages it has managed to reinforce all kinds of anti-Semitic stereotypes; I refuse to read more of it.
While hunting around for other reviews to compensate for this non-review of mine, I came across this brilliant essay by Dorian Stuber at the OpenLetterMonthly. It’s long, but it’s well worthwhile, especially if you’ve never read Primo Levi’s If This is a Man/The Truce.
Check this one out too, by David Eggleton at the NZ Listener.
Other reviews, :
Carmen Callili at The Guardian, makes the astonishing claim that she thinks Dickens would like it. Really? An author long dead before the Holocaust used to invoke praise for this novel, well, well. Is it because there are a lot of characters to keep track of?
Anna Paterson at The Independent, in what one hopes is just a careless error, claims that ‘everyone is a loser here’ in the Lodz Ghetto, as if to include the Germans as losers too…
Daphne Merkin at the NY Times invokes Dickens as well, as if readers will find his unique comic sensibility in the characterisations of The Emperor of Lies too. Well, it is Dickens’ anniversary this year, and reviewers like to make good use of classics they’ve read, I suppose.
This one at Jewaicious made me pause for thought.
For other reviews by members of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize team, click here.
Do yourself a favour and read Inga Clendinnen’s masterly Reading the Holocaust instead.
Author: Steve Sem-Sandberg
Title: The Emperor of Lies
Translator: Sarah Death (no, her name isn’t a sardonic joke)
Publisher: Faber, 2011
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library.