The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest

4.1 6
by Martin Amis
     
 

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Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favorite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. It showed you your soul—it showed you who you really were.

The wizard couldn’t look at it without turning away. The king couldn’t look at it. The courtiers couldn’t look at

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Overview

Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favorite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. It showed you your soul—it showed you who you really were.

The wizard couldn’t look at it without turning away. The king couldn’t look at it. The courtiers couldn’t look at it. A chestful of treasure was offered to anyone who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.
 
The Zone of Interest is a love story with a violently unromantic setting. Can love survive the mirror? Can we even meet each other’s eye, after we have seen who we really are?

Powered by both wit and compassion, and in characteristically vivid prose, Martin Amis’s unforgettable new novel excavates the depths and contradictions of the human soul.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
A dark satire…[that] creates a chilling sense of the banality of evil by depicting Nazis as petty bureaucrats in office cubicles, who chatter away about their work in the breezy, self-absorbed tones of characters in, say, the comic strip Dilbert or television's The Office. Although this approach to the subject may initially feel disturbingly irreverent, it seems clear that Mr. Amis wants to use this narrative strategy as a means of jolting the reader into a new understanding of how what one character calls "such a methodical, such a pedantic and such a literal exploration of the bestial" could take hold in "'a sleepy country of poets and dreamers'"…[The Zone of Interest] builds to a haunting conclusion that slams home the horror of the Holocaust.
Publishers Weekly
★ 07/21/2014
An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis (Lionel Asbo: State of England) is an astoundingly bleak love story, as it were, set in a German concentration camp, which Thomsen, one of the book’s three narrators, refers to as Kat Zet. Thomsen, the nephew of Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, has a vague role as a liaison at Buna Werke, where the Germans are attempting to synthesize oil for the war effort using slave labor. He sets his sights on Hannah Doll, wife of camp commandant Paul, who is the second of three narrators as well as a drunk whose position is under threat. As Thomsen gets closer with Hannah, both of them, horrified at what’s going on, conspire to undermine Paul—Hannah at home and Thomsen around the camp. Paul, meanwhile, follows up his suspicions about his wife and Thomsen by involving Szmul, the book’s third narrator and a Jew who disposes of the corpses in the gas chamber, in a revenge plot. Amis took on the Holocaust obliquely in Time’s Arrow. Here he goes at it straight, and the result is devastating. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
The Zone of Interest is a tour de force of sheer verbal virtuosity, and a brilliant, celestially upsetting novel inspired by no less than a profound moral curiosity about human beings.  It's stunning.” —Richard Ford

“Amis took on the Holocaust obliquely in Time’s Arrow.  Here he goes at it straight, and the result is...an absolute soul-crusher of a book [and] brilliant.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“How to write fiction about the Holocaust that reveals in new and significant ways its systematic horror and impossible legacy? Amis accomplished this feat in Time’s Arrow, and now this brainy, intrepid, worldly, and virtuosic writer does it again in his fourteenth novel by ushering us into the poisoned minds of characters trapped in the death-spiral of the Final Solution. . . . An audaciously satiric and brilliantly realized tale about personal angst and mass psychosis, and the immolation of self and soul.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Essential reading. . . A haunting indictment of the people who willingly bought the party line of racial purity and ethnic cleansing, this novel is as audacious as it is chilling.” —Barbara Love, Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Brawny and urgent, it’s unmistakably Amis. . . an indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul.” —Kirkus (starred review)

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-07-31
Can love survive against that most hellish of backdrops, the Nazi concentration camp? It's a question that Amis (Lionel Asbo, 2012, etc.) probes in his latest novel, an indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul.Opening in August 1942, the book's events are narrated from the viewpoints of three distinct characters. Arctic-eyed Golo Thomsen, a German officer, looks every bit the Aryan ideal, ensuring him a lusty welcome in beds across the Reich. He also happens to be the nephew of Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary, though his personal views regarding the Fuhrer's campaign are a good deal more opaque. Paul Doll is the queasily named camp commandant, a doltish yet wily drunkard whose cool wife, Hannah, has caught Thomsen's eye. As for Szmul, back in Poland he was a tender husband and father. In the camp, he is a member of the Sonderkommando, forced to herd fellow inmates into the gas chambers and dispose of their bodies. It's Szmul who recalls a fable about a king who commissioned a magic mirror that reflected one's soul. Nobody in the kingdom could look at it for 60 seconds without turning away. The camp, he says, is that mirror. Only you can't turn away. As Thomsen contrives to woo Hannah, word reaches the Officers' Club that German forces are surrounded at Stalingrad. Doll becomes increasingly paranoid and Szmul, a bearer of perilous Nazi secrets, strives to find a way to reclaim his life. With malice rampant, absurdity lurks in the shadows, drawn out by twisted details like bureaucratic euphemisms or the fact that Jews are made to pay for their own tickets aboard the trains bringing them to the camp. Brawny and urgent, it's unmistakably Amis, though without the gimmickry of Time's Arrow (1991).

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385353496
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/30/2014
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
238,873
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

3. SZMUL: Sonder


Ihr seit achzen johr, we whisper, und ihr hott a fach.

Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. It showed you your soul—it showed you who you really were.

The wizard couldn’t look at it without turning away. The king couldn’t look at it. The courtiers couldn’t look at it. A chestful of treasure was offered to any citizen in this peaceful land who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.

I find that the KZ is that mirror. The KZ is that mirror, but with one difference. You can’t turn away.

We are of the Sonderkommando, the SK, the Special Squad, and we are the saddest men in the Lager. We are in fact the saddest men in the history of the world. And of all these very sad men I am the saddest. Which is demonstrably, even measurably true. I am by some distance the earliest number, the lowest number—the oldest number.

As well as being the saddest men who ever lived, we are also the most disgusting. And yet our situation is paradoxical.

It is difficult to see how we can be as disgusting as we unquestionably are when we do no harm.

The case could be made that on balance we do a little good. Still, we are infinitely disgusting, and also infinitely sad.

Nearly all our work is done among the dead, with the heavy scissors, the pliers and mallets, the buckets of petrol refuse, the ladles, the grinders.

Yet we also move among the living. So we say, “Viens donc, petit marin. Accroche ton costume. Rapelle-toi le numéro. Tu es quatre-vingts trois!” And we say, “Faites un n’ud avec les lacets, Monsieur. Je vais essayer de trouver un cintre pour vôtre manteau. Astrakhan! C’est noison d’agneaux, n’est-ce pas?

After a major Aktion we typically receive a fifth of vodka or schnapps, five cigarettes, and a hundred grams of sausage made from bacon, veal, and pork suet. While we are not always sober, we are never hungry and we are never cold, at least not at night. We sleep in the room above the disused crematory (hard by the Monopoly Building), where the sacks of hair are cured.

When he was still with us, my philosophical friend Adam used to say, We don’t even have the comfort of innocence. I didn’t and I don’t agree. I would still plead not guilty.

A hero, of course, would escape and tell the world. But it is my feeling that the world has known for quite some time. How could it not, given the scale?

There persist three reasons, or excuses, for going on living: first, to bear witness, and, second, to exact mortal vengeance. I am bearing witness; but the magic looking glass does not show me a killer. Or not yet.

Third, and most crucially, we save a life (or prolong a life) at the rate of one per transport. Sometimes none, sometimes, two—an average of one. And 0.01 per cent is not 0.00. They are invariably male youths.

It has to be effected while they’re leaving the train; by the time the lines form for the selection—it’s already too late.

Ihr seit achzen johr alt,
we whisper, und ihr hott a fach. Sic achtzehn Jahre alt sind, und Sie haben einen Handel. Vous avez dix-huit ans, et vous avez un commerce. You are eighteen years old, and you have a trade.

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