Zohar - ManOfLaBook.com's Reviews > The Emperor of Lies

The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg
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's review
Dec 05, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2011

The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg is an award win­ning his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book. The book was trans­lated from Swedish and tells about real life, as well as fic­tional characters.

The ghetto at Łódź, Poland has existed for two years. Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the Nazi nom­i­nated “elder of Jews” is asked to sup­ply 20,000 Jews for depor­ta­tion. The lies and shad­ows of this com­plex man cover many pages of this book.

Adam Rzepin lives with his father and men­tally ill sis­ter. Adam is try­ing to sur­vive with his fam­ily but will he?

The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg is still an amaz­ing, somber, hard look at a Jew­ish Ghetto, in Łódź Poland dur­ing World War II. The book has sev­eral sto­ries which, might not inter­twine, cer­tainly run par­al­lel to one another.

While a novel, the book’s research is a amaz­ing and I some­times for­got I was read­ing about the fic­ti­tious lives of oth­ers. The author is inside the heads of the char­ac­ters but yet keeps a watch­ful eye on the his­tor­i­cal time­line and incor­po­rates non-fiction doc­u­ments into the narrative.

Mix­ing fact and fic­tion is always a tricky busi­ness espe­cially when writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion as oppose to writ­ing a fic­tional story which takes place in the past. There are many his­tor­i­cal fig­ures which go in and out of this book such as Hein­rich Himm­ler and the leader of the War­saw ghetto Adam Czer­ni­akow. Secretly I was wait­ing (in vain) for Mordechai Anile­vich to make an appearance.

One of the main char­ac­ters in the book Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, which is the char­ac­ter the book’s title refers to, is nei­ther sym­pa­thetic nor relat­able. Rumkowski which func­tions as the head of the ghetto and was put in place by the Nazis. He is a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure to this day and even more so in the book. There is no doubt that Rumkowski had found him­self in some very dif­fi­cult, unen­vi­able posi­tions such as select­ing ghetto res­i­dents for “deportation”.

The cast of char­ac­ters in the book is daz­zling, some like Adam Rzepin we read a lot about, oth­ers like the ghetto’s smug­gler king appear and dis­ap­pear quickly from the pages. But for all the dif­fer­ent aspects of this book, it is still a chill­ing look at the ghetto and recon­structs its three dimen­sional life in an hon­est and somber way.

The book is dark and dis­turb­ing, but it has some humor, such as a ghetto res­i­dents ask­ing what they would do with guns because:

"how­ever would we go about get­ting the Chairman's per­mis­sion to use them?"

Was Rumkowski work­ing for the good of the Jews or the Nazis? Was he a col­lab­o­ra­tor? Those are some of the ques­tions in the book which the reader has to answer for themselves.

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