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The Emperor of Lies [Paperback]

Steve Sem-Sandberg
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 July 2011

In February 1940, the Nazis established what would become the second largest Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lódz. Its chosen leader: Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director, and the elusive, authoritarian power sustaining the ghetto's very existence.

From one of Scandinavia's most critically acclaimed and bestselling authors, The Emperor of Lies chronicles the tale of Rumkowski's monarchical rule over a quarter of a million Jews. Driven by a titanic ambition, he sought to transform the ghetto into a productive industrial complex and strove to make it - and himself - indispensable to the Nazi regime. Drawing on the chronicles of life in the Lódz ghetto, Steve Sem-Sandberg captures the full panorama of human resilience, and questions the nature of evil. He asks the most difficult questions: Was Rumkowski a ruthless opportunist, an accessory to the Nazi regime driven by a lust for power? Or was he a pragmatic strategist who managed to save Jewish lives through his collaboration policies?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571259200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571259205
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 388,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'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

'Steve Sem-Sandberg's extraordinary novel is set in the Lodz ghetto during the German occupation. The story has been told many times before ... yet rarely with such imaginative empathy ... The Emperor of Lies is a brilliantly sustained work of fiction.' --Ian Thomson, Sunday Telegraph

'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 *****

'Steve Sem-Sandberg's extraordinary novel is set in the Lodz ghetto during the German occupation. The story has been told many times before ... yet rarely with such imaginative empathy ... The Emperor of Lies is a brilliantly sustained work of fiction.' --Ian Thomson, Sunday Telegraph

'A book that moved the heart and soul and head down into a sombre gear, and recalled to some degree the purposes of Primo Levi to shine a clear, bare light on what happened in historical darkness . . . both a remembrance of vanished evils, and a warning to modern kings and conquerors.' -- --Sebastian Barry, Guardian Books of the Year

'Steve Sem-Sandberg's extraordinary novel is set in the Lodz ghetto during the German occupation. The story has been told many times before ... yet rarely with such imaginative empathy ... The Emperor of Lies is a brilliantly sustained work of fiction.' --Ian Thomson, Sunday Telegraph

Book Description

Based on the tragic true story of a Jewish ghetto in WW2, this is an epic novel following the dark and flawed authoritarian ruler of Lodz.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning! A classic for many ages! 2 July 2011
Some Holocaust issues have remained controversial. The institution The Jewish Council, or as it was known in German as the "Judenrat" is one of them. Were the heads and members of the Councils collaborators and traitors or heroes who have done all they could in order to save their berthren from the evil machine of the Nazi hordes?
This is the subject of "The Emperor of Lies", whose hero or anti-hero is Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, an elderly Jewish businessman, who was chosen to be the leader of the Lodz ghetto in Poland, the second greatest Jewish ghetto there. This ghetto was established by the Nazis in February 1940 and it hosted a quarter of a million Jews. It was separated by barbed wire. Rumkowski,or "King Chaim", as he was better known, was cynical, ambitious, devious, monarchical, devilish, arrogant, cunning, vain and " uneducated who resorted to the coarsest of threats and insults" and with whom "no one even wanted to share a table". He managed to establish a whole industry of workshops manufacturing many products to be sent to the Nazi army and administered tens of thousands of Jews under the slogan which he created, namely: "Our only way is Work". This is a reminder of what the Nazi beasts engraved at the entrance of Auschwitz: "Arbeit Macht Frei". Thus starts the odyssey of the reader into the dark, sombre and tragic times of the ghetto, and whose fate is well known. The novel is a stupendous achievement, because of some reasons.
First, this is a great work of imagination, which manages to recreate not only the ghetto but also the historical context of it. The book has many and various characters and episodes which come all alive and the reader has the impression that he is watching each and every moment of them.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
It is really no overstatement to compare Swedish author Steve Sem-Sandberg's epic novel about the people in the Lodz ghetto during World War II to Tolstoy's War and Peace, published almost one hundred fifty years earlier. The real life dramas which the book illustrates, the memorable characters, the carefully developed themes which Sem-Sandburg treats in new ways, and the magnitude of the horrors easily make this book the equal of Tolstoy's epic. The nature of the subject matter, of course, precludes any hint of romanticism here, but Sem-Sandburg is so good at varying scenes involving a series of fully human, repeating characters, that I cannot imagine any reader not becoming fully engaged with them. Beautifully written to memorialize the people of the ghetto, rather than the horrors of the Holocaust itself, this book is an awe-inspiring literary achievement.

Taking place between 1940 and 1944, the novel opens with two contrasting passages. The first, a memorandum from December, 1939, announcing the Germans' intention to enclose the two hundred twenty-thousand Jews in Lodz within a ghetto--"a temporary measure." In the second passage, a scene from September 1 - 4, 1942, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowsky, Chairman of the Jews' Ruling Council of Elders, must give the population news so inhuman and so devastating, that the Chairman of the Warsaw ghetto, took cyanide rather then give that same news to his own people. Ten thousand residents, chosen from babies and children under the age of ten and "elderly" over the age of sixty-five, were to be handed over to the Gestapo for immediate "relocation.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature's power to explore history's lessons 13 Sep 2011
By J. H. Bretts VINE VOICE
Steve Sem-Sandberg uses the novel form to explore one of the most controversial figures in the Holocaust, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the 'Elder' who was the spokesperson for the Jews in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Rumkowski was in effect the 'king' of the ghetto, a vain dictator who issued his own Ghetto currency and postage stamps, backed up by his own police force. Rumkowski thought that by working with his German captors he could somehow save 'his people' - but he was just a dupe of the Nazis. (It isn't a matter of historical hindsight: many of the people around him realised it at the time.) Sem-Sandberg's uses a vast cast of historical figures and fictional characters to paint an all too vivid picture of what it must have been like to live in this hellish universe, where hunger and fear turned moral values upside down. Sem-Sandberg is Swedish but his range and depth of storytelling reminded me more than anything of the great Russian novelists. This vast book is a challenging read - but is also endlessly thought-provoking and humane. Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Labour of Love 11 Dec 2011
By Michael Ward VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a hard book to read, but well worth the effort. At times it was difficult to seperate the enormous background research iin facts from the dramadocumentary style of writing. However hard this book is to read the outcome is positive. To understand the workings of the minds of those unfortunates who were involved in this cataclysm is hard, but there are insights here that should be studied and considered by everyone. A tour de force.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact or fiction? 7 Aug 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was initially dubious about the idea of a novel about these events, but I'm also aware that there is a real difference between reading any number of factual and historical accounts of an event, and the new insights a well-imagined and well-crafted piece novel or story can give me. In the end, Sandberg does succeed in allowing us to imagine the horror of these times, in particular individuals' fears, and their isolation and powerlessness, when they don't even know what is going on around them. His characterisation of Rumkowski is well-realised (in the end small details of historical veracity are not that important in fiction) because the complexity of the moral dilemma facing an individual is clear, and not avoided.

It's a shocking and harrowing read in places. It reminds me, in a strange way, of the power of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones. Maybe such fictional explorations are now coming into their own as we get further away in time from the events, and those who were able to bear actual witness are no longer with us.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
I really enjoyed this, although it is terribly sad. Fascinating, frightening and very educational. A whole area I haven't previously known about. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Bing
4.0 out of 5 stars I do object to having to write something after I have rated a product....
I do object to having to write something after I have rated a product. I have expressed my opinion by rating it haven't I?
Published 7 months ago by Mr. J. Biltcliffe
5.0 out of 5 stars Experiencing the ghetto
This book provides a superb realisation of life for the ghetto dwellers of Lvov, until the ghetto's final claerence in 1944. Read more
Published 15 months ago by markb
5.0 out of 5 stars THE EMPEROR of LIES
An amazing book. Written with touches of magic realism entirely appropriate for the unreal atmosphere of the ghetto, so hard to imagine for those who, fortunately, never... Read more
Published 15 months ago by M. E. Keenan Lindsey
5.0 out of 5 stars Grim but one of the must-reads of the year
Well, the Holocaust has now been done from every angle. What's new? What can shock us? What can we learn? Read more
Published on 27 July 2012 by London Matron
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Labour is the ROCK OF ZION! Labour the FOUNDATION OF MY STATE! HARD,...
An amazing and horrific account of life in the Lodz Jewish ghetto - second largest in Poland. The head of the ghetto, Chaim Rumkowski, set to turning 'his' town into an industrial... Read more
Published on 27 May 2012 by sally tarbox
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor book, a huge missed opportunity.
I have read extensively about the Lodz Ghetto and MC Rumkowski. This book has a number of failings. Firstly it lacks flow and is very difficult to follow. Read more
Published on 21 May 2012 by CFS198
4.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor of Lies
I couldn't believe that life in the wartime ghettos could have been anything but horrendous for the inmates until I read this book. Read more
Published on 28 April 2012 by lifelongreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic story of human struggle and delusion
What does it take to rule over a ghetto of two hundred and fifty thousand Polish Jews, when food and fuel are scarce, and your Nazi taskmasters impose ever harsher work quotas and... Read more
Published on 20 April 2012 by Jeremy Bevan
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful read
This is an extraordinary piece of Literature that I think really must be read. The book centres on life in a Jewish ghetto, mixing both fact and fiction, giving the reader an... Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2012 by Ms. S. J. Green
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