From the Publisher
“Mesmerizing...An irresistible work of fiction, absorbing from first page to last...Dickens would have been very pleased with this novel.” Carmen Callil, The Guardian (London)
“Was Rumkowski a sinner or a saint? Collaborator or a liberator? It is around this central question that The Emperor of Lies swirls, providing along the way. . . cinematic detail that invites immersion in the way few contemporary novels of serious ambition do.” Daphne Merkin, The New York Times Book Review
“A resolute masterpiece, The Emperor of Lies looks for truths in the great domain of dissolving syntax and shadows we call history....A great achievement.” Sebastian Barry, Salon
…a freshly felt, fully absorbing novel about the Holocaust…The Emperor of Lies is a chilling and illuminating look at a period of history that has been analyzed and reconstructed before but rarely in quite so three-dimensional a fashion. Sem-Sandberg's mostly artful use of archival material gives the fictional reconstruction a gravitas, a form of legitimacy, it might not have on its own, while the fictive element allows us as readers to call upon all our powers of empathy and projective identification to imagine ourselves into the doomed fates of the ghetto's denizens.
The New York Times
A Swedish bestseller, this sprawling, Dickensian novel of the Holocaust now lands in America, where it is sure to attract attention.
Based on historical fact and a real-life central character, Sem-Sandberg's magnum opus is set in the Jewish ghetto of Lodz, Poland. The time is the winter of 1940, when the Nazi invaders have newly arrived to find an apparently willing accomplice in a very unpleasant man named Chaim Rumkowski. Sadistic and abusive in every possible way, Rumkowski has an odd dream: He believes that he can "demonstrate to the authorities what capable workers the Jews are," thereby convincing the Nazis to turn all of Lodz into what would eventually become "a Jewish free state under Nazi supremacy, where freedom had been honestly won at the price of hard work." Against the awful figure of Rumkowski, who Sem-Sandberg allows to come out of the shadows only slowly, stand other characters, real and imagined: Rumkowski's sister, horrendous in her vanity; Gertler the policeman, a law unto himself; Adam, hooked of nose and in care of a mentally disabled sibling, both the kind of people the Nazis want very much to exterminate. The Nazis, of course, are very bad indeed, as they reveal with little ceremony from the first, and especially when the deportations to the death camps begin. But the Jewish administrators of the ghetto are perfectly capable of inflicting terror on their own people; Sem-Sandberg risks courting controversy by revisiting this complicity with evil, as he does by allowing the possibility that Rumkowski may have honestly believed that he was saving his fellow Jews by his acts—a possibility that historians have lately been wrestling with. Sem-Sandberg is very good with period details, and most of his scenarios seem well founded, though often the prose strays into melodrama.
Of a piece with Jonathan Littell'sThe Kindly Ones(2009) as a philosophically charged novel of an ever-more-distant time, written by one who was not there to see those terrible events firsthand.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Asphodel: A Novel
'And she was fair as it the rose in may.'
'Oh, you glorious old Sol, how I love you!' cried Daphne.
It was a day on which common mortals were almost fainting with the heat, puffing and blowing and complaining - a blazing midsummer day; and even here, in the forest of Fontainebleau, where the mere idea of innumerable trees was suggestive of shadow and coolness, the heat was barely supportable a heavy slumberous heat, loud with the hum of millions of insects, perfumed with the breath of a thousand pines.
Daphne revelled in the fierce sunshine - she threw back her crest of waving hair, bright as yellow gold, she smiled up at the cloudless blue, she looked unwinkingly even at Sol himself, the mighty unquenchable king of the sky, glorious yonder in his highest heaven.
She was lying at full length on a moss-grown block of stone at the top of a hill, which was one of the highest points in the forest, a hill-top overlooking on one side a fair sweep of champagne country, fertile valleys, church steeples, village roofs, vineyards and rose gardens, and winding streams; and on the other side, woodlands stretching away into infinite distance, darkly purple.
It was the choicest spot in a forest which, at its best, is a poor thing compared with the immemorial growth of an old English wood. Here there are no such oaks and beeches as our Hampshire forest can show - no such lovely mystical glades - no such richness of undergrowth. Everything seems of yesterday, save here and there a tree that looks as if ho had seen something of bygone generations, and hero and there a wreck of an ancient oak, proudly labelled 'The Groat Pharamond,' or 'Li Chene de Henri IV.,' with a placard hung round his poor old neck to say that ho is not to be damaged 'on pain of amend.' Such Pharamonds and Henris abound in the forest where Rufus was killed, and nobody heeds them. The owls build in them, tho field-mice find slicker in them, the woodpecker taps at them, unscared by placards or tho throat of an amend.
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