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The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg: review
Thousands of others were transported and never seen again. Was Rumkowski an accessory to the Nazi regime, driven by lust for power, or was he a pragmatic strategist, actively saving Jewish lives through apparent collaboration? Find out more about our upcoming events with Simon Armitage, Hanif Kureishi, Lavinia Greenlaw and other leading literary voices.
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- Steve Sem-Sandberg - Emperor of Lies: A Novel.
Every choice made by victims, opportunists and perpetrators alike hinges on unacceptable ethical and moral compromises. Swedish author Steve Sem-Sandberg explores this horrific setting in his work of historical fiction, The Emperor of Lies. Following the chronological sequence of actual events in the collected papers and documents that constitute the Lodz Ghetto Chronicles, the author weaves imagined stories into an imagined reality.
He dares to examine the darkest corners of humanity under Nazi rule — collaboration with the Nazis; class conflict; intra-Jewish cultural, linguistic and economic cleavages; and most provocatively, the sexual exploitation of women and children.
He flirts with magical realism, as some of his characters experience mystical, dreamlike states that blur their perception of reality, as in the case of Adam Rzepin and his sister, Lida, or the peculiar Mara, who is cast as a prophetic herald straight out of the Old Testament. The overall effect is to transform the ghetto into a complex array of fiefdoms, bounded by hallways, buildings and streets that take on the nightmarish proportions of a medieval rendering of hell on earth.
You Review: The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg
His ghetto is an empire of slaves, which he is forced to share with the Germans. A firm believer in the virtues of work, Rumkowski selects who lives and who dies based on his understanding of fitness to toil. He is judge, jury and executioner for all Jews in the ghetto.
In his twisted vision of a Jewish kingdom on earth, work and loyalty are the pillars of his New Order. The question is: Should Rumkowski be hailed as a savior for sacrificing tens of thousands of individuals labeled as the weakest members of the Jewish community of Lodz in order to save the vast majority? Or should he be viewed as a war criminal who facilitated the implementation of the Nazi-orchestrated Final Solution of the Jewish Question?
Sem-Sandberg lets his imagined Rumkowski answer the question.
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