Hatchet Job of the Day
Others called it “irresistible” (Carmen Callil, The Guardian), “brilliantly sustained” (Ian Thompson, The Daily Telegraph), “monumental” (Kate Saunders, The Times) … but Simon Schama in The Financial Times was one of the few who didn’t like Steve Sem-Sandberg’s 672 page tome on the sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski and his authoritarian rule over the second largest ghetto in Lódz during the Second World War. In fact he was rather disparaging of THE EMPEROR OF LIES, accusing the author of verbally revelling in the atrocities:
Sem-Sandberg has a high old time with the imagery: “As the blood flowed, the gouged out eye dangled on its string like an egg coated in an oily brownish membrane.” You want to ask the writer: did writing that particular sentence, that particular simile, give you special satisfaction?
There is much in this vein running through The Emperor of Lies, although the German perpetrators of the atrocity remain for the most part a distant presence. What there isn’t is any memorable characterisation (least of all of Rumkowski himself), any gathering tension of plot, or any grain of redemption amid the wall-to-wall cruelty, suffering, treachery and malice … It makes you wonder what Sem-Sandberg thought he was doing when he perpetrated this lumbering monster of a novel.
Read all the reviews here.
Want to know what the critics made of the latest book, film or play? The Omnivore rounds up newspaper reviews, bringing you a cross section of intelligent opinion.