DE FATTIGA I LODZ – THE EMPEROR OF LIES
BY SEM-SANDBERG, STEVE
The Emperor of Lies is a prize-winning novel about the Jewish ghetto that was established by the Nazis in the Polish city of Lodz. It is the story of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the Nazi-appointed Jewish leader of this camp, and his ambiguous and shady role in the annihilation of the Polish Jews.
The author expertly weaves his story around this power-hungry and self-absorbed man who had an especially complicated relationship to the children of the ghetto. Although he claimed, throughout his whole life, that there was nothing dearer to him than those children, he did not bat an eyelid when the order came to have them all deported.
In the summer of 1944, Himmler gives orders to “liquidate” the ghetto. As transportation to the Nazi death camps increases, so does the ghettos inhabitants’ knowledge of them. Slowly but surely the Lodz ghetto, with its 250 000 people, is emptied of all citizens and Rumkowski is finally forced to leave his safe haven. In August 1944, shortly after leaving the ghetto, he is killed in Auschwitz, alongside his entire family.
Sem-Sandberg’s novel describes the life in the sealed off town district. It speaks of the imposing German cadaver discipline, the gruesome slave labour, the starvation, and the futile escape attempts. Paradoxically, in the emergence of the collective and craftily subversive Ghetto Chronicles – the author’s main source for this novel – the reader is also shown the art of survival, and man’s remarkable will to live.
In The Emperor of Lies, Steve Sem-Sandberg takes his reader on a powerfully moving journey into the cold realities of the Holocaust.
ABOUT THE BOOK
First published by Albert Bonniers Förlag, Sweden, 2009.
The August Prize 2009
Swedish Radio’s Kerstin M Lundberg Prize 2010
The Nordic Council Award 2010 (shortlisted)
The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature 2013 (shortlisted)
Prix Médicis Etranger 2011 (shortlisted)
Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012 (longlisted)
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2013 (longlisted)
RIGHTS SOLD TO
Brazil, Companhia das Letras
Catalonia, La Campana
China, Fudan University Press (Simplified Chartacters)
Czech Republic, Paseka
France, Robert Laffont
Italy, Marsilio Editore
Lithuania, Obuolys/Media Incognito
The Netherlands, Ambo Anthos
Poland, Wydawnictwo Literackie
Portugal, Dom Quixote
Serbia, Carobna Knijga
Spain, Literatura Mondadori
Sweden, Albert Bonniers Förlag
United Kingdom, Faber & Faber
United States, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
Sem-Sandberg’s achievement is that this history becomes but a background to a multitude of vivid characters, the ordinary Jewish people of the ghetto, whose experiences he weaves expertly into a mesmerising whole … (They) become as familiar to us as every character in Great Expectations or David Copperfield… When the deportations begin in September 1942, we cannot bear to see each one go … “The Emperor of Lies” is a novel about heart-wrenching suffering and extraordinary evil, transformed by Sem-Sandberg’s talents into an irresistible work of fiction, absorbing from first page to last. … Dickens would have been very pleased with this novel.
Carmen Callil, Guardian
In this vast and impressive book, the Swedish novelist Steve Sem-Sandberg revisits these five years of barbaric history. The chronology from April 1940 to January 1945 is handled with great skill … (and) the book is immeasurably strengthened by its multiple points of view … Yet the book is not a mere recitation of crime and evil. There are compound ironies in the fact that Rumkowski wanted to make the authorities acknowledge that “the ghetto was a special place” …. Perhaps the book’s chief virtue is that it doesn’t attempt to resolve these complexities.
Tom Deveson, Sunday Times
The author uses the Ghetto Chronicle, a 3,000 page archive set up by Rumkowski in 1940, to give this novel an extraordinary immediacy and power.
Kate Saunders, The Times
(The story) is told in almost dispassionate prose which because of its sheer understatedness makes it all the more potent … Sem-Sandberg is an intensely visual writer and scene after scene comes vividly to life. The vast company of characters are memorably drawn and naturally the emperor of lies dominates … The final section of the book rises to startling heights of descriptive writing as the steadily emptying ghetto becomes a freezing snowscape barely populated other than by the ghosts who have perished. The concluding pages are almost unbearable … The Emperor of Lies is a memorable examination of human resilience and the will to survive. It is a most distinguished addition to the literature of the holocaust.
Peter Burton, Daily Express
With this book, Sem-Sandberg steps into the magic circle of leading European writers.(…)
The moral dilemmas and the evocation of the period would alone add up to a challenging and fascinating narrative, but one we have met in other books. It is the humanity of the storytelling, so rich and vivid and yet under such complete control, which entices the readers of this dark book. The stories are told with a wealth of expressions, jokes, poems and rituals in Yiddish. They seem to capture Jewishness, not just in their contexts, but in the shifts between pitiless realism and grim humour. The calm voice of the narrator, restrained even when trembling with revulsion, never loses its undertone of irony. All this is precisely and fluently caught in Sarah Death’s excellent translation, which also handles the many inclusions of alien language with great confidence.
Anna Paterson, The Independent
Sem-Sandberg’s prose, his sense of collage and texture, and his sheer narrative heft make for a book ofr astonishing emotional power which far outstrips, in execution and in seriousness, most of what tends to be referred to as, for want of a less hair-raising term, ‘holocaust fiction’. The result has been described as the best Swedish novel of the past thirty years: unsparing in the attention it pays to unimaginable suffering, weirdly beautiful in execution, and intellectually courageous in its willingness to delve into the moral grey areas of a story that, traditionally, we’re much more used to being told in black and white.
Making comprehensive use of the contemporary “Lodz Ghetto Chronicle”, the author creates an unforgettable novel using a mixture of historical figures as well as imagined characters. The story telling is totally engaging, and he brings ghetto life almost unbearably alive, as he explores, in a way which is both challenging and humane, the lives of the residents. Although the horrors of that period are so well known, he highlights the moral dilemmas and ambiguities people faced in their desperate struggle for survival. The book raises so many issues for groups to explore; I highly recommend it.
Linda Hepworth, Newbooks
I entered this lost domain with great reluctance, and look about me there with a degree of horror, but also admiration for the huge task that Sem-Sandberg has undertaken. And how is it that having entered, one is strangely glad to be there, and even reluctant to leave? Perhaps because there are so many souls crying out to be properly understood, and because sentence by sentence it is extremely interesting, not least the terrible ambiguities and the compromised heart of Rumkowski. My great sense is that Sem-Sandberg has achieved something monumental, but with a strange and necessary lightness of touch. It is sobering, scarifying, and, in its hunger for the truth, enthralling.
A gripping story convincing in its realism.
Sem-Sandberg makes the events so understandable and at the same time it is so shocking that they are understandable. The biggest power of the book is that gettoleader Rumkowski becomes a human being. After reading this nauseating book you know that its impossible to judge. Praise to Sem-Sandberg, who dared to write this book about Lodz.
Steve Sem-Sandberg makes every gruesome fact understandable in this monumental novel.
“De onzaligen van Lodz” is like a well-aimed hammer. Superior, timeless literature.
I have just finished this: fiction of true moral force, brilliantly sustained and achieved. It helps us to do what is so hard; simply to think about the Holocaust. Normally, the mind shears away in horror after some exposure to the accumulation of gruelling detail and to the ungraspable weight of the statistics. What is so difficult is to focus our imagination, our empathy, and Sem-Sandberg provides a way for us to do that, guiding the reader through the mass of information to the human heart of these appalling events. I think that fiction here is operating at its best, to close the gap between past and present, between them and us: not through sentiment, but through real understanding.
– Hilary Mantel
Perhaps the very first holocaust account that dares to step away from the black and white perspective. In the hands of Sweden’s foremost European storyteller, the truth is not always what it seems.
Daniel Sjölin, Babel
“The Destitutes of Lódz” is a genuine craftsmanship of words, a sharply detailed documentarian prose transformed into a poem that grows ever more profound. And such works of art consume, displace, alter, aggravate and deepen questions rather than answering them.
The strength of his novel is that it stands out as a unique and secluded reality, claustrophobic and frightening, a cruel ghetto of language where the surrounding world is only glimpsed as threatening shadows or thin rays of light.
This is real literature. A great work of fiction. Steve Sem-Sandberg steps forward as a worthy and completed successor to, shall we say, a PO Enquist – with whom he shares not only the ability to make poem out of prose but also a fascination for treachery’s and betrayal’s lowest sediment.
Per Svensson, Dagens Nyheter
Steve Sem-Sandberg’s latest novel “The Destitutes of Łódź” – massive in size but polished to a light conciseness in every last detail – is also a majestic portrayal where documented facts create the foundation for fictions insight into historical fate.
Mikael van Ries, Svenska Dagbladet
Those who have struggled through Jonathan Littell’s 900 pages long novel, “The Kindly Ones”, about a Nazi officer have been given a new, tougher challenge in Steve Sem-Sandberg novel of a little over 600 pages. The difference is that “The Destitutes of Lodz” is much better novel, in all respects – literarily, emotionally, intellectually. I can’t imagine anything else than that Steve Sem-Sandberg will have his international breakthrough with this magnum opus.
Nils Schwartz, Expressen
With “The Destitutes of Lodz” Steve Sem-Sandberg cements his position as one of Sweden’s significant authors. The book deserves marked attention. And The August Prize.
Markus Huss, Uppsala Nya Tidning
Rarely has an August Prize been more well-deserved.
Anders Johansson, Aftonbladet