“Powerful and electric. . . . A book that may stand for years as the triumph of his career.” —NPR
“This is a novel that will endure. . . . A novel whose adventurousness is at the level of its ethical register, its attempt . . . to imagine the unimaginable.” —The Guardian (London)
“A tour de force of sheer verbal virtuosity, and a brilliant, celestially upsetting novel inspired by no less than a profound moral curiosity about human beings.” —Richard Ford
“Signature Amis at his most inventive. . . . It is precisely through such inspired and irreverent fluency that his dead-serious purpose is realized.” —The Washington Post
“The Zone of Interest harrows in the true sense of the word, churning up our preconceptions and assumptions. It is a work of artistic courage, chilling comedy and incontestable moral seriousness.” —Financial Times
“Heartbreaking. . . . [Amis is] a virtuosically vivid writer.” —The Atlantic
“His finest so far. . . . Astonishing. . . . A tragicomic moral blowtorch worthy of Swift.” —The Daily Beast
“Compelling. . . . Harrowingly effective.” —Slate
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 25, 1949
Place of Birth:Oxford, England
Education:B.A., Exeter College, Oxford
Read an Excerpt
3. SZMUL: Sonder
Ihr seit achzen johr, we whisper, und ihr hott a fach.
Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. It showed you your soul—it showed you who you really were.
The wizard couldn’t look at it without turning away. The king couldn’t look at it. The courtiers couldn’t look at it. A chestful of treasure was offered to any citizen in this peaceful land who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.
I find that the KZ is that mirror. The KZ is that mirror, but with one difference. You can’t turn away.
We are of the Sonderkommando, the SK, the Special Squad, and we are the saddest men in the Lager. We are in fact the saddest men in the history of the world. And of all these very sad men I am the saddest. Which is demonstrably, even measurably true. I am by some distance the earliest number, the lowest number—the oldest number.
As well as being the saddest men who ever lived, we are also the most disgusting. And yet our situation is paradoxical.
It is difficult to see how we can be as disgusting as we unquestionably are when we do no harm.
The case could be made that on balance we do a little good. Still, we are infinitely disgusting, and also infinitely sad.
Nearly all our work is done among the dead, with the heavy scissors, the pliers and mallets, the buckets of petrol refuse, the ladles, the grinders.
Yet we also move among the living. So we say, “Viens donc, petit marin. Accroche ton costume. Rapelle-toi le numéro. Tu es quatre-vingts trois!” And we say, “Faites un n’ud avec les lacets, Monsieur. Je vais essayer de trouver un cintre pour vôtre manteau. Astrakhan! C’est noison d’agneaux, n’est-ce pas?”
After a major Aktion we typically receive a fifth of vodka or schnapps, five cigarettes, and a hundred grams of sausage made from bacon, veal, and pork suet. While we are not always sober, we are never hungry and we are never cold, at least not at night. We sleep in the room above the disused crematory (hard by the Monopoly Building), where the sacks of hair are cured.
When he was still with us, my philosophical friend Adam used to say, We don’t even have the comfort of innocence. I didn’t and I don’t agree. I would still plead not guilty.
A hero, of course, would escape and tell the world. But it is my feeling that the world has known for quite some time. How could it not, given the scale?
There persist three reasons, or excuses, for going on living: first, to bear witness, and, second, to exact mortal vengeance. I am bearing witness; but the magic looking glass does not show me a killer. Or not yet.
Third, and most crucially, we save a life (or prolong a life) at the rate of one per transport. Sometimes none, sometimes, two—an average of one. And 0.01 per cent is not 0.00. They are invariably male youths.
It has to be effected while they’re leaving the train; by the time the lines form for the selection—it’s already too late.
Ihr seit achzen johr alt, we whisper, und ihr hott a fach. Sic achtzehn Jahre alt sind, und Sie haben einen Handel. Vous avez dix-huit ans, et vous avez un commerce. You are eighteen years old, and you have a trade.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Finally got through this volume and found the conclusion of the story very satisfying. As with the question as to why the Germans engaged in the mass slaughter that they created during World War II or to an even more perplexing question, as to why Hitler was driven to lead the German people as he did, the author reprises the common answer: that is, there are no real answers. Amis' effort in writing this spectacular work of fiction (with real characters, places and events) is only to bring illumination and meditation on the horrors of man acting against his fellow man, not to answer the unanswerable. In the telling he has performed magnificently with sparkling imagery, intriguing interactions among characters and a pacing that encourages readers to move ahead despite some of the disturbing behavior one is reading. The author admits he has spent years on the subject of the Holocaust and read scores of books on the topic and the main characters involved in that horror. This volume is his way of making sense out of a madness that has no diagnosis and seems for many to have no end.
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