The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg
Translator Sarah Death
Steve Sem-sandberg is a Swedish writer ,his unusual first name is due to his parents living in the US ,when he was born he initially appeared at age 18 in 1976 with a debut novel a sci-fi and wrote a couple of others til in 1979 he stopped and then 1987 he reappeared with a different style existentialists new stuff has received high praise and he has won seven prizes including the august prize in 2009 for this book (this prize is the Swedish version of the booker ) he lived in Vienna during the writing of the book . He also translates into Swedish notably Jon Fosse and John Berger .
So what is Emperor of lies about it’s a thick book 650 pages long .It follows the story of Poland’s second largest Jewish Ghetto during world war two in Lodz . May I say right from the start this is a harrowing piece of Holocaust literature but one maybe people need to read .We meet Chaim Rumkowski or King Chaim as he is known ,we see how this man was maybe the best or worst thing in the ghetto as he tried to run things for the Jewish community inside the ghetto as he placed himself as the leader of the ghetto ,whilst also trying to keep the right side of the german tyrants .Chaim wasn’t the nicest of men but he kept the ghetto working hard and thus it was one of the last to have people sent to the concentration camps as it was profitable for the germans to keep it .This book sees how that was possible a warts and all account of the ghetto .
A person calling himself King Chaim had been holding court here for some days ,an old man of seventy with great ambitions a little crazy .He tells miraculous tales of the Ghetto in Lodz .There is Jewish state of four hundred police officers and three jails .He has own” ministry of foreign affairs ” and various other departments
The Jewish council in Warsaw struggles with Chaim’s claims .
Now this book has been compared to Dickens in a number reviews it is easy to see why but maybe an easier comparison would be Tolstoy’s war and peace as like that books focus on the Napoleonic war ,this focus on the ghetto and this like war and peace includes maybe a hundred characters .There is a handy index in the back to keep up with them ,also a map at the front which includes the polish and german street names this saved me some confusion ,so Chaim was very organised having been a businessman before the war he spilt the ghetto into four got them their own police force and made sure they produced what the Germans needed maybe a little misguided in the view .He also had a sister how is a damaged soul .
Mrs Rumkowska and Princess Helena could not stand each other .Regina called Helena a crazy hysteric ,Helena called Regina a fanatical parvenu who had turned the head of an old man .
Chaim sister and his wife don’t see eye to eye .
Right my thoughts I was a bit weary of this one when it appeared on longlist ,I always worry about holocaust fiction that isn’t written by a survivor or some one of Jewish or other races that were connected to the horrors of the camps and ghettos .But this is a wonderfully researched and thought out book it brings to life the daily feel of the ghetto and the pressures of the people living in the camps at the time .Sem-Sandberg has brough the dark corners of the ghetto The horrors violence and sheer abuse that faced everyone ,everyday in the ghetto .We also see the problems faced by the leading figure in the Jewish community in the camp as they try to keep them selves from the gas chambers .Chaim wasn’t the nicest guy he had a thing for little girls and maybe with out the war would be detested by his own community ,but the war focused him as he held in his hand the lives of all the people in Lodz Ghetto . I found this harrowing book I ve read a number of Holocaust books both fiction and Non-fiction this is among the better written ones but I m not sure if the approach is 100% right .But maybe the time is right to look at how some of the Jewish people interacted at the time .As there are good and bad people on both sides of war .
Have you read this book ?