Read The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis Online


From one of England's most renowned authors, an unforgettable new novel that provides a searing portrait of life-and, shockingly, love-in a concentration camp.Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favorite 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 wFrom one of England's most renowned authors, an unforgettable new novel that provides a searing portrait of life-and, shockingly, love-in a concentration camp.Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favorite 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 anyone who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.The Zone of Interest is a love story with a violently unromantic setting. Can love survive the mirror? Can we even meet each other's eye, after we have seen who we really are?In a novel powered by both wit and pathos, Martin Amis excavates the depths and contradictions of the human soul....

Title : The Zone of Interest
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ISBN : 9780385353496
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 306 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Zone of Interest Reviews

  • William1
    2019-05-20 14:10

    Comments on my first reading of The Zone of Interest. That a book merits rereading is to my mind high praise.I never thought Martin Amis would attempt an historical novel. But he has and it's quite a good one. I found the opening pages thrilling. My problem is not so much with the novel, as with the historical background that informs it. My problem is with historical novels in general, which I tend not to read. About the Holocaust, I've read extensively. So when I came across familiar facts in this novel I found I had little interest in plowing through them again. But I had to do so if I was going to get to the story of the characters, which is fresh and new. So the brilliance of the writing itself--I've always admired Martin Amis' work--was in this instance not enough to keep my interest aloft. My interest sagged and rose as I read. The goodreads star rating system has always been for me basically a pleasure meter. How much did the book transport me? How much did it take me out of myself and absorb me in its dream? In the case of The Zone of Interest I'm afraid the answer is, not much. I suppose I'm Shoah'd out. A special case. I wonder if this isn't really a novel for future generations, which might perhaps join Tadeusz Borowski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen and a few other books as a concise introductory to the era's horrors. For it is, without question, masterfully composed. Please look at the Afterword; as you can see, Amis had access to vast amounts of research and he has arranged events in a way that wouldn't necessarily have been foremost in the minds of those living at the time. I'm not talking about the simple chronology. I'm talking more about what was known at the time. This is what I dislike about historical novels generally. They're too informed about their own historical context. This, for me anyway, ruins suspension of disbelief and undermines the very foundation of the fiction. Now, most novels have some historical context, even fantasies (which I loathe), but not all novels are historical novels. Usually the historical moment is just part of the setting, for the historical novel history is the subject matter, too. I could run on about this, but you get the gist. You might argue: "Well, yes, but the novelist can't unlearn aspects of the history he or she writes about for purposes of giving the proper lopsided view," and I would agree. The historical novel has an epistemological conundrum at its heart.My favorite Amis' novels include:London Fields, The Information, Money, Success, Night Train and House of Meetings.

  • Kemper
    2019-06-06 05:41

    I’ve noted in reviews of the three other Martin Amis novels I’ve read that he’s got this incredible knack for writing despicable people while still making them funny and entertaining. But doing a book about Nazis running a concentration camp?Well, you can’t say the man isn’t willing to take on a challenge.*The story is told by first person accounts from three men. Angelus Thomsen is a Nazi officer and nephew to Martin Bormann whose hobby is seducing women. He’s got his eye on Hannah, the wife of camp commandant Paul Doll who is our second narrator. The third one is Smzul, the leader of a work gang of Jews who have to search and dispose of the bodies of people murdered in the gas chambers.Amis does a great job of riding the line of mocking the Nazis and their beliefs without ever trying to use humor to disguise the horror all around. Smzul is the character who keeps the book honest with the depiction of him as a man forced to do the unthinkable but doing it well. Thomsen is a bit trickier with his motivations initially being only a desire to sleep with Hannah and seemingly not much reaction to what’s happening around him. He only comes into focus late in the book.Like many other Amis characters, Doll is a stupid brute without the self-awareness to realize what a pathetic joke he actually is. Amis does some of his sharpest work here in highlighting the utter terrifying banality of Nazi evil by making Doll a clown, but then pointing out that things can go seriously wrong when the clowns start running the circus.I’m struggling to put my finger on why this didn’t do more for me, and I think it’s just comes down to the setting. Amis manages this delicate tone about as well as anyone could, and obviously reading this should make someone feel uneasy at the very least. Maybe my problem is that I have genuinely enjoyed reading when Amis puts an awful person front and center despite them doing some pretty terrible things, but you can’t get into that same mindset when the terrible things actually happened.* I know that another Amis book, Time's Arrow, also features a Nazi character, but I haven't read that one yet so I can't compare it to this one.

  • Violet wells
    2019-05-30 14:09

    It’s like some accident befell Martin Amis half way through his career. Without ever quite writing the masterpiece expected of him he did write a series of brilliant and very funny novels. Then, all of a sudden, he collapsed. He lost his mojo. Yellow Dog is probably the worst novel in history written by a first rate novelist. Since then we’ve had House of Meetings, The Pregnant Widow and Lionel Asbo, all lacking the vitality and high wire virtuosity of his earlier work. Now he’s chosen to write about the Holocaust for the second time. In his afterword he tells us how difficult it has always been for him to gain entrance into the Holocaust, to secure any kind of understanding of its “wild fantastic disgrace”, the electric severity with which it repels our contact and our grip”, until he stumbled upon an interview with Primo Levi in which Levi said the actions of the Nazis should always remain beyond comprehension because the act of comprehension is, in some way, to find justification. So Amis makes no effort in his novel to comprehend what happened at Auschwitz – here named Kat Zet; rather, he focuses predominantly on the banality and ethical undertow of its evil, distils the evil into workplace and social tensions at the camp, most notably, sexual rivalry. The insane industrial slaughter takes place offstage (we draw on our own stock of brutal images to provide the pathos), its stink the most pervasive toxin of the reeling barbarity of the camp. The novel has three rotating narrators. Doll, the camp commandant is psychotic, deluded, vain, self-pitying, pulsing with self-righteous bluster and as such a familiar Amis creation. Thomsen, the protected playboy nephew of Martin Bormann, is some kind of middle manager responsible for the camp’s workforce and the production of synthetic rubber. He is more morally ambivalent. To begin with he sees Doll’s wife, the most vocal conscientious objector in the novel, as the latest challenge for his sexual vanity but his blossoming feeling for her begins to humanise him. The third narrator is Szmul, head of the Sonderkommando, the workforce of prisoners detailed to dispose of the bodies - "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". In a nutshell, Doll is the perpetrator of the horror, Thomsen the bystander and Szmul the victim. Without question the most difficult character for Amis to imagine is Szmul, the electric insanity of the work he’s forced to do every day beggaring belief. Somewhere in the novel Amis states that the Third Reich forced people to see who they were, made it impossible to hide from themselves. Szmul though and the ethical and physical horror he undergoes every day, not surprisingly, eludes Amis. But you feel this is intentional. Szmul is a ghost, remains a ghost throughout the novel and as such, conversely, works better than the other two narrators because he is what haunts everyone. What we have is a novel set in Auschwitz that is almost bereft of dramatic tension. It’s engaging and highly intelligent without ever being truly enthralling or disturbing. The writing is consistently good without ever being thrillingly brilliant. As you’d expect with a writer of Amis’ exalted comic gifts he does a great job of mocking the Nazis. But all in all I found it an oddly unemotional experience. The aftermath, when after the war Thomsen seeks out Hanna, is genuinely moving but overall this novel is not a moving experience. Ultimately I’m not sure why Amis wrote this novel. Time’s Arrow was a brilliant dramatization of the monumental insanity of the Holocaust – to understand which will always be like trying to decode the speaking in tongues of the mentally deranged. Why, when you’ve succeeded once, attempt the same subject again? Incidentally, Hannah will do nothing to change the widespread conviction that Amis can’t write women. I’d recommend it but add a note of caution about getting your hopes up.

  • João Carlos
    2019-06-16 10:02

    ”A Zona de Interesse” não é “apenas” mais um livro sobre o campo de extermínio nazi de Auschwitz – décimo quarto romance que o escritor britânico Martin Amis (n. 1949) publicou em 2014.Martin Amis subdivide o romance em Seis Capítulos e um Rescaldo; em cada Capítulo a narrativa é partilhada por três narradores: Angelus "Golo" Thomsen, um jovem oficial nazi, sobrinho de Martin Boormann, secretário particular do chefe (Martin Amis nunca menciona o nome de Hitler nem de Auschwitz), Paul Doll, o comandante do campo, leal e obediente, e Szmul Zacharias, um sonder, que pertence ao Sonderkommando, o SK, que são ”os homens mais tristes que alguma vez existiram, também somos os mais repugnantes”, um judeu polaco encarregue de eliminar os corpos das vítimas das câmaras de gás. De uma forma excepcional, Martin Amis confere a cada um dos três narradores – todos personagens masculinas – um estilo e uma linguagem própria, que vai variando ao longo da narrativa, conferindo autenticidade e induzindo o leitor na apatia e na indiferença aos crimes hediondos que são sistematicamente praticados; para nos concentrarmos nas histórias, sobretudo, as de amor, que fugindo à vulgaridade, muitas das vezes, revelam alguma comicidade, apesar de intercaladas com as brutais sequências de horror e crueldade. ”A Zona de Interesse” é um romance ambíguo, numa combinação complexa entre o dramatismo associado ao campo de concentração de Auschwitz e à sátira sombria sobre as personagens que habitando nele se interrogam: ”Se aquilo que estamos a fazer é bom porque é que cheira tão atrozmente mal?(…) Porque é que os loucos, e só os loucos, parecem gostar disto aqui? Porque é que aqui a conceção e a gestação prometem não uma nova vida, mas a morte certa tanto para a mulher como para a criança?(…) Porque é que fazemos com que a neve fique castanha?(...) Fazer com que a neve pareça merda dos anjos?” (Pág. 253); incorporando inúmeras reflexões, as personagens nazis insistem em serem pessoas perfeitamente normais, que agem e têm comportamentos como qualquer outro homem; num contexto em que a rivalidade, a vaidade, a decepção, o ciúme e a luxúria estão sempre presentes.Mais um surpreendente romance de Martin Amis…

  • Maciek
    2019-06-04 08:03

    Time's Arrow, Martin Amis's earlier book, was an interesting experiment - it begins at the end, and has a Nazi doctor return from death and life his life backwards. He talks in reverse and acts in reverse - hurts healthy patients before sending them home, breaks up with women before seducing them, and grows increasingly younger. The novel's trick is Todd not being its narrator - there entity narrating the events is never named but can be seen as his conscience (or soul, if you prefer) as it nears the inescapable Holocaust - the horrible event which makes sense only when inverted: from death back to life, from suffering back to happiness.With The Zone of Interest Amis returns to the theme of the Holocaust, albeit in a very different way. The Zone of Interest is set in Nazi Germany in 1942, and describes the Holocaust from the point of view of the Germans. The novel has three different narrators, and each offers his perspective on the events - Paul Doll, an alcoholic and delusional Commandant,loathed by his wife, Hannah; Angelus "Golo" Thomsen, a Nazi official and a nephew of Martin Bormann, who falls in love with Doll's wife; and Szmul - a former Jewish inmate turned Volksdeutsch and enrolled into the Sonderkommando, now personally responsible for organizing the Final Solution in practice by sending other Jews to the gas chambers, and collecting the loot from their dead bodies. Time's Arrow was a chronological reversal; The Zone of Interest is reverses the perspective. It is a well known adage which says that history is written by the winners, but there's at least one instance where this isn't true - the Holocaust. Much - if not - all of Holocaust literature focuses on the lives of prisoners and the inner working of the camp as seen through their eyes; here readers see the lives of its perpetrators and executioners. This is a particularly important approach, as actions of the Nazis became a contemporary benchmark of evil and entered everyday language - just think of Godwin's law. Paradoxically, this has largely restricted possible attempts at comprehending the Nazis - we know how evil they actions were, but can we understand why have they committed them? The Nazis have been moved into the territory of absolute evil - completely beyond human comprehension and understanding, with the Nazis themselves considered to be evil incarnate and Hitler being the devil himself. In the afterword, Amis quotes writer Michael Andre Bernsteinand his statement that "dealing with the Nazi genocide is central to our self-understanding"; but he also quotes Primo Levi who argued that the Holocaust cannot be understood as understanding implies justification - no normal human being will ever be able to identify with Hitler, Goering and Eichmann. Nazi hatred is not human hatred - it is entirely outside man. Amis sees Levi's statement not as an evasion, but as "lifting of the why, and opening "the door in" - which looks to me to be a bit evasive in itself - we need to understand while at the same time we'll never be able to, and mustn't even try. This, I believe, is a grave mistake - by stripping the Nazis from their humanity we collectively shrug them off with conviction that what they did couldn't happen here, to us, and most importantly that we would never do anything as horrifying as they did. But what gives us this certainity?As historical fiction the book is mediocre - there's barely a plot and the descriptions of places and events are bare; if not for the obvious fact that it's set in a concentration camp we wouldn't know that it's the 1940's, as just a few other historical events are mentioned. I could never become completely interested in the characters and their tribulations, which didn't help as they are the crux of this text. The fault is largely mine - being who I am, a Pole, we're more than familiar with the history and circumstances of the period. The Holocaust has been written about and studied extensively by both scholars and survivors, and the why question is and always will be central to understanding it. But do we, in 2014, need another novel about it? This is the second Holocaust novel published this year by an important writer - the other one being J by Howard Jacobson. I think that both books brought us no closer to understanding the Holocaust, which asks the question why bother write them in the first place. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I enjoyed the last Amis - Lionel Asbo: State of England much better - with its low-brow Chav humor it was a bittersweet satire on contemporary generation, surprisingly well done by someone his age. In Zone of Interest I actually enjoyed most the ending essay, where Amis lists the historical books he used for research and ruminates on his motivations for writing this book, which unfortunately does not bring us any further towards answering the haunting why.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-06-15 09:57

    Germany to probe Nazi-era medical scienceDescription: From one of England's most renowned authors, an unforgettable new novel that provides a searing portrait of life-and, shockingly, love-in a concentration camp.Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned his favorite 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 anyone who could look at it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.The Zone of Interest is a love story with a violently unromantic setting. Can love survive the mirror? Can we even meet each other's eye, after we have seen who we really are? In a novel powered by both wit and pathos, Martin Amis excavates the depths and contradictions of the human soul.Opening: I was no stranger to the flash of lightening; I was no stranger to the thunderbolt. Enviably experienced in these matters, I was no stranger to the cloudburst, and then the sunshine and the rainbow.That opening paragraph did not inspire further reading, yet ploughing through to the main harrowing narrative proved worth the dedication. If you are looking for a text that will show you why what is happening in UK and US is lamentable, this is for you.(view spoiler)[ Kellyanne C's specific brand of human nature has been seen before, not least in WWII, and specifically piquant to this character trait investigation is Irma Grese. America, you will need a lot of Jeyes Fluid to clean up after your foray into fascism goes tits up, yet feel most of us will scrub alongside to get the job done quicker. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • MJ Nicholls
    2019-05-16 07:45

    This is my first Amis novel since my abandonment in 2010 following an enraged reading of House of Meetings (no doubt devoured in part on an ice-cold bus from Inverness following a disappointing summer), a meview that begins with a flounce: “This is the last Amis novel I will ever read.” Four years hence, why the flipflop, why once again do I part the enormous hardback covers for a peek into Amisland? Because I remember the good times—The Information, London Fields, Money. The Good Times. And now, The Zone of Interest has brought me back into the Amis bosom. A mordant and amusing short novel with three Nazi voices that pokes around in the banal backrooms of evil, boasting Amis’s trademark pizazz and more chatty dialogue than expected that detracts from Amis’s trademark pizazz. His handling of the holocaust has the same opaque violence as Time’s Arrow—that which happened is a brutal backdrop (despite a few overt stomach-churners) to the tedious love hankerings and existential miseries of the Nazi bunglers. That which happens in the novel is not too interesting—the comedic aspect seems to revolve around using German words for the female anatomy at choice moments—although the graceful and musical bounce of the prose and dialogue keep the reader entranced and in wait for the explosion of horror that never quite arrives. Subdued and amusing. Decent Amis.

  • Anthony Vacca
    2019-05-27 06:56

    Some Reviewerly Hmmm-ing Before the ReviewA thought I had the other night during a long night of swapping lies with a friend: What if Hitler hadn’t been the prissy genocidist that we unfortunately all know too well, and instead had written Mein Kampf as a staggering work of satire to rank with Gulliver’s Travels or Les 120 journées de Sodome? The question led then to the question: Would Swift have managed over the cannibalization of the Irish poor (to make a metaphor with a different work of the author’s than mentioned in the sentence above) to save God and Queen some money if given parliamentary approval? Would De Sade, armed with a pack of thugs, have locked himself away in a villa with 46 innocents for nearly two hundred days’ worth of rape, murder, and every other form of excess and degradation the mind can imagine? It’s an impossible question to answer, and although we hope Swift would have known better, who can speak for that embittered, morbidly obese Frenchman? The contract we make with an author when we read, admire, and appreciate his or her work is that no matter how offensive, shocking, or titillatingly taboo, that the author is of the right-minded stance of being mordantly opposed to the subject matter of their artistic endeavor. Now this is clearly not always the case but I’ve said it before and, as the cliché goes, I’ll say it again: good-to-great satire must be upsetting in some fundamental way because that is one of the only ways one can make an audience metaphorically get off of their ass and actually question their pat, stock opinions on matters worth discussing. But what about Mein Kampf? Say we were to take the historical inescapability that the Holocaust did happen, and that, “a sleepy country of poets,” singlehandedly orchestrated the most systematic mass atrocity the world has ever been blighted with; say we were to snap our fingers and momentarily do away with all that wretched history and do a quick re-write that goes something like: “Young Hitler died from dysentery soon after completing his book, which was published several months later.” In this alternate timeline, without Hitler around to muck up critical response or reader interpretation, would his book have been construed as a work of satiric ferocity? The answer is undoubtedly no. Why? Well, because Hitler was a humorless twat.And Now the Actual ReviewRecommended for fans of the American version of The Office and the Holocaust (both being a program/pogrom that lasted for far too long). Martin Amis’s new novel The Zone of Interest lets out a roar of verbal excellence guaranteed to silence all naysayers about his position as today’s King of English prose. Dividing each chapter into three sections, each narrated by a different narrator, Amis tackles not the “why's” of the Final Solution, but the “how's”. As in how can ordinarily sane and normal people play their own collective part in murdering millions of people? The answer is good old-fashioned bureaucratic transference: “Don’t blame me, blame my boss.” “Hey, I just work here.” When not cataloguing the banality of how to put people in camps and then efficiently exterminate them in mass groups, the novel focuses on the intrigue involving a love/hate triangle between two of the novel’s narrators—one a young, rakish Nazi with a high-ranking uncle; the other “a quivering condom of neurosis and ineptitude” whose long-suffering duty is to manage the camp’s executions—the development of which drags in the novel’s third and final narrator, a Jewish collaborator who lives a deadened existence of incomprehensible woe. Despite fields of rotting bodies and storms of human ash, Amis is on his best behavior in this book (there’s even a strong, determined female character whose using her place as the center of the aforementioned love triangle to sabotage the death camp’s works), working with an exhaustively researched canvas that shows his all-encompassing respect for the endless litany of the Holocaust’s victims and his admiration for those who survived. So while not as jazzy as Money, or as wild and decadently bloated as London Fields, The Zone of Interest’s utter disgust with the Holocaust and its perpetrators (describing Nazis as being fairly well-mannered about their concentration-camp duties is not a compliment) sizzles from every page. And you, dear reader, should be disgusted too that all it takes to make a nation of people culpable in the most extravagant display of genocide ever is cost efficient business practices.

  • Teresa Proença
    2019-06-03 10:50

    Uma história de amor que floresce no meio do horror; entre os gritos de dor, o cheiro nauseante, a neve castanha...... em Auschwitz..."São empilhados em pé. Lata de sardinhas, só que na vertical. Sardinhas verticais. Pisam os pés uns dos outros. Num único recanto. Com crianças e bebés enfiados à altura dos ombros. É só para pouparem dinheiro. O Zyklon B sai mais barato do que balas."Martin Amis aborrece-me; não há nada a fazer. Mas ainda assim, li este livro todo, até ao fim. Porque, embora de uma forma um pouco encriptada, Amis transmite bem a frieza, a perversidade, a alienação da mente daqueles homens e mulheres que aceitaram e colaboraram na chacina de um povo, convictos que estavam a agir correctamente. E também porque nunca é demais escrever sobre o nazismo, ler sobre o nazismo, escrever sobre o que se lê sobre o nazismo.

  • Susan
    2019-06-11 14:01

    This is an excellent, thought provoking novel, which attempts to look at the holocaust from the human perspective of four different characters. Firstly, there is Paul Doll, Commandant of a concentration camp; ruler of who he surveys, but oddly uncomfortable in his own marriage and battling bureaucracy in Berlin over numbers, cost and the various details of committing mass murder for the least cost and most profit. His wife, Hannah Doll, is also an important character. A woman, a wife, a mother and far more aware of what is going on around her than her husband realises. Thirdly, is Angelus ‘Golo’ Thomsen, who falls for Hannah. Golo looks like an SS poster boy – all blonde hair and jutting jaw- plus, much to Doll’s disgust, he has a degree of protection through his uncle, Martin Bormann. Lastly, there is Szmul, a Jewish prisoner, who works at the ramp where the prisoners arrive on the trains and who is a witness to all the atrocities that happen around him. In a way, this reminded me of another novel I read earlier this year – “The Commandant of Lubizec,” by Patrick Hines. Both books look at the normalisation of horror and the sheer scale of killing that happened in the holocaust. Humanity was turned on its head, as previously normal people beat, starved and gassed other people to death. We have Doll, an ardent National Socialist, who bans the anti-Semitic newspaper, “Der Sturmer,” in favour of scientific evidence to condone his actions, industrialists tiptoeing around bodies as they lay out their factories, a professor of zoology who has to dig Doll’s garden, locals who complain they cannot drink the water because of the smell coming from the camp, but do not question too deeply, businessmen who argue that they do not realise what all the fuss about the Jews is for anyway, but go along with it, guards who drink and obviously feel increasingly uncomfortable with what they are doing, but still obey orders… This is murder as a business, where prisoners worth is measured in the work they can do, where finance is built upon bodies and transport schedules constantly roll in unloading their victims.Martin Amis does an incredible job of showing us the reality of the holocaust, while wrapping the storyline around a moving love story. Much of this novel is incredibly moving – Szmul’s reaction when Hannah Doll speaks to him is one of the most touching moments in the book – and yet often it is also extremely funny. I thought this a wonderful novel; Amis made the seemingly impossible –a funny book about the holocaust – possible. He shows how mass murder became normalised and how, and why, normal people became brutal and barbaric. This is an important novel and I am glad I read it. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.

  • Jill
    2019-05-29 13:02

    How does an author – who was not alive at the time – write about arguably mankind’s darkest and most evil moment? Does he write in hushed whispers or clear outrage? Or does he accept the absurdity and senselessness of the Holocaust and use his art to convey that illogicality?Martin Amis has chosen the latter route. Let me first say that the publicist’s blurb has done the book a huge disservice: “The Zone is Interest is a love story with a violently unromantic setting.”Well…no. Or at least, not really. The story is less about love than it is about death: the death of the collective souls of virtually everyone involved: “the malefactors, the collaborators, the witnesses, the conspirators, the outright martyrs…and even the minor obstructors. We all discovered, or helplessly revealed, who we were.”Martin Amis utilizes three main narrators: Golo Thomsen, the nephew of Martin Bormann, a real-life prominent Nazi official and private secretary to Hitler…Paul Doll, the numerically-obsessed and more than slightly crazy Commandant, and Szmul, head of the Sonderkommando, who states, “We are the saddest men in the Lager. We are in fact the saddest men in the history of the world.” It falls on his shoulders to send other Jews to the gas chambers and to ferret out their “riches” after the dirty deed is done.Golo Thomsen lusts after Paul Doll’s wife, Hannah, who likely reciprocates his feelings -- which comprises the barebones of the promised “love story.” In reality, self-love – or any love – has difficulty surviving here. The book’s main focus, I believe, is more focused on the banality of evil, the sheer stupidity of it, the ludicrousness of those unimaginable years.In his afterword, Martin Amis quotes a Jewish-American writer, Michael Andre Bernstein, who states that “dealing with the Nazi genocide is central to our self-understanding.” Mr. Amis seems to imply that we can deal with the Holocaust but never reach that point of understanding: how, after all, can a sane person understand forcing victims to pay their own fare to get to Auschwitz, for example? For those who wonder why we need “one more Holocaust book”, read The Zone of Interest. It is proof positive that evilness will not endure, but art will. 4.5 stars.

  • Matt
    2019-05-18 10:52

    Here's a polished, neatened-up version of my review:’s safe to say that Martin Amis has never shied away from controversial subjects. Over a three-decade career, the eminent novelist and essayist has consistently delved into prickly subjects like nuclear war (Einstein’s Monsters), Thatcherite greed (Money), terrorism (Yellow Dog) and Stalinist horror (The House of Meetings). After the breakthrough success of The Rachel Papers, his second book bore the title Dead Babies. One critic called Amis a harbinger of what he called “the new unpleasantness.” Amis’s fiction, bleak though it often is, paradoxically remains compelling and pleasurable to read because of how well he writes about dreadful things. It’s unfortunate that The Zone of Interest, his latest novel, has far more dread in it than beauty. In his best work, Amis can write beautifully about grotesquerie, relying on his technical excellence and caustic humor to carry the reader along. Granted, it would be very difficult for any writer, no matter how talented, to pull off a combination love story and office comedy set within the higher bureaucracy of a concentration camp. Amis shows some admirable ambition in setting a literary challenge for himself and the reader, attempting to summon emotion and humor out of the least likely of scenarios. Unfortunately, The Zone of Interest isn’t even close to his best work. Most of the rather feeble attempts the novel makes at either romance or comedy crumble under the ominous load of its premise.The novel’s anti-hero protagonist is Angelus “Golo” Thomsen, nephew to Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann, who has an authoritative but undefined position (“I liase”, he explains) at a concentration camp named Buna- Werke where prisoners produce synthetic rubber for IG Farben as cheap labor. He longs for Hannah, the wife of his particularly boorish camp commander Paul Doll. Golo plans to seduce Hannah away from the dullard Doll, partly because Hannah’s beauty and physical robustness makes her desirable and partly for the perennial appeal of shagging the boss’s wife. Sadly, this is essentially the sum total of the love story plot. Amis’s decision to write about the Holocaust doesn’t categorically put him in bad taste, or even because he wants to portray highly improbable emotions with a concentration camp as a backdrop. Novelists should be free to write about whatever subject they choose, but the question is not in what one writes about as much as in how well they write about it. If you’re going to try and make a concentration camp funny, or (god help us) romantic, you really must make it work on the page in order to make it worth the reader’s time and imaginative effort. Amis has written a novel dealing with the Holocaust before, the Vonnegut-esque Time’s Arrow, which at least had the saving grace of being innovatively structured and briskly paced.Characterization has never really been Amis’s strong suit, and the motivation behind Golo’s desire for Hannah is scant at best. Golo falls for Hannah at first sight, but doesn’t seem to give the reader any finer point to his emotions beyond acknowledging her beauty and the surreptitious thrill of insubordinate adultery. One wouldn’t necessarily expect a Nazi to have much of a romantic side, but Golo doesn’t seem to have much else to him aside from the sinister punctiliousness of a bureaucrat in a death camp. Sizing up the sturdily built Hannah, Golo bluntly remarks to himself that she would be “a big fuck”, telling us nothing other than that the real zone of interest, for Golo at least, is found below his belt.If the reader is expected to believe love- even a truncated understanding of it in nightmarish times- is really at stake for these characters, the fact that Golo himself is barely able to articulate what he feels either to Hannah or the reader is a major narrative weakness. The reader doesn’t get a sense of what Hannah means to Golo at all. Hannah, for her part, despises her psychotic husband but seems to feel nebulous at best towards Golo, adding little to the dramatic tension. Their story eventually leads to a denouement as underwhelming for the reader as it is for Golo.The rest of The Zone of Interest is a black-as-pitch parody of the desk-chair brutalities of shuffling around the paperwork for the death trains. Different characters calculate the amount of labor that can be extracted from the prisoners in relation to calorie intake, others prefer numbers to words, attend ballet recitals and hold office meetings under a cloud of “cigarette smoke and existential unhappiness.” Doll obliviously gloats over the immanent German victory at Stalingrad. A grisly humor makes an appearance from time to time. As one camp commando says to Golo, cracking a joke to cover up their mutual unease: “well, we’re not savages. At least we’re not eating them.” Another glaring issue is the style, or lack thereof, which is tantamount to an aesthetic disaster for a stylist like Amis. Amis’s prose is often justly celebrated for its caustic exuberance; his wicked satiric eye is matched only by the Nabokovian zest of his language. Very few contemporary novelists can be as engaging and fun to read while delivering rather devastating indictments on the absurdities of modern life. Unfortunately, none of his literary strengths are on display here. Sentences pass by as if being recorded as blips on a dim radar screen. The prose in Zone is eerily compressed, flattened, and eventually rather numbing in its sense of omnipotent dread.It’s a shame that Amis decided to handicap himself by rejecting his usual stylistic brio in favor of a prose that explores the banality of evil by being oppressively banal itself. Whenever the novel takes up a particular theme, it drops it without having delved deeply enough into it to have anything to say. Peculiar effort that it is, The Zone of Interest ironically fails as a novel because it breaks the cardinal rule Henry James once made for all fiction, which is that whatever it says or does, it at must at least be interesting.

  • Mona
    2019-06-02 09:57

    I was given this book as part of Goodread's first reads program. Opinions are mine, etc. How do you bring dark comedic satire into a place laughter cannot tread, into modern human history's most brutal chapter? This is a story of petty workplace issues among a bunch of eccentric figures, with one difference-- the setting of the story is a concentration camp. In the backdrop of our comedy, trains filled with the condemned Jewish people of Europe screech into the station every day, and the air is rife with death and horrific atrocious unspeakable misery. Amis' black humour is never flippant, and the sombreness of Auschwitz is a sinister undertone that coils through the entire text, as he portrays the sheer absurdity and the complete utter banality of the people who ran the haunting death camp, and at the end of it all, we are left with an overwhelming feeling that all that hatred, all the horror and all those nightmares were so very chillingly senseless.

  • Sarah Anne
    2019-06-06 12:01

    This was a four star book for me right up until it abruptly stopped in the middle of the story and went to the Aftermath part. That went beyond anti-climactic and right into running into a brick wall and dashing my brains out.I'm hard pressed to say what this book was about. It takes place in a concentration camp at the end of WWII. Each part has the same three narrators: Thomsen, our main character and the man that's involved in the love story that is described in some blurbs; Doll, the Kommandant and total nutcase, also husband of Hannah, the woman involved in the love story; and Szmul, the Polish Jew who's job it is to clean up the bodies that are murdered in masses.The Kommandant is actually a really funny character. He's so far around the bend that it makes for some bizarre moments. One thing I thought was weird was that I saw this billed as a love story but the love story is not in any way the main drive of the story. Thomsen spends some time trying to figure out some things for her but I think they're actually in each other's company something like four times in the book.However, it's an extremely difficult book to describe so it kind of makes sense that the blurbs only describe parts of the book. I liked this story but I was disappointed that it ended so abruptly. I could have read another hundred pages like the first 250.

  • Sharon
    2019-05-17 11:42

    I almost don't know where to begin with my review because in all honesty, I'm not even sure I understood this book. I've never read anything by Martin Amis, and I don't think I'll be seeking him out again. The way he writes women (and about women) in this book doesn't appeal to me at all. This is set in 1942, during the Holocaust. It's a story told from three points of view - Angelus "Golo" Thomsen (what is he? No idea. Some kind of Nazi involved with expanding the camp...I think), Paul Doll (camp Commandant) and Szmul (A Jewish prisoner who works among the dead bodies in the camp).Thomsen is obsessed with Doll's wife, Hannah. He's pompous and misogynistic. He tries to win Hannah's affections by finding out information for her about a former flame.Doll is wary of his wife and is completely self-obsessed - it's like the entire Holocaust is an inconvenience to him. "Corpses are the bane of my life". He speaks about himself in the third person and refers to dead bodies as "pieces". Szmul knows his days are numbered. "It is difficult to see how we can be as disgusting as we unquestionably are when we do no harm."I almost don't want to say this, but I will. Parts of this book seemed bizarre to me, almost as if I were watching a Monty Python sketch or an episode of Allo, Allo. It's not a comedy - how could anything set in a concentration camp be a comedy - but it had a weird feel to it. I didn't enjoy it. I didn't enjoy the writing, I found it all incredibly hard to follow, I didn't understand half the German, I hated the main characters (except Szmul) with a passion, but I couldn't put the bloody book down. 2.5/5 for getting me to finish it. I'm sure lots of people will really enjoy it, but I think it was a little too intelligent for me. Either that, or you need to have a pretty good knowledge of The Holocaust to get all the little "in-jokes" and obscure references. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for providing me with a digital copy.

  • Philippe Malzieu
    2019-05-25 10:10

    Marivaux at Dachau ? This book feels suffers. Lucifer go away from it. Gallimard, his historical editor refuses to publish it. Amis is complain to justify himself. All that for that ?It is not the fist time that « Final solution » is described by nazis. If I remember, it is Merle who began with « La mort est mon métier ». But the absolute reference is « The kindly one » of Jonathan Littel. I save to you the inevitable reference to Arendt. In short, nazis fuck and drink while deportees are gassed. That was already read. But I do not manage to test any feeling towards the carachters. In Littel's novel, we ended up having empathy for Max, a real trouble for us.Howecver, Amis is a great stylist. That does not all. 3 stars because the postface is very intersting, it is the best part of the book

  • Victor Eustáquio
    2019-06-07 06:50

    Definitely the masterpiece of Martin Amis

  • Marthe Bijman
    2019-06-07 13:06

    It took me about three chapters in to realize what I was reading about – where this novel is set, and in which time. The language - a mixture of German, English, Polish words, an Austrian dialect, and Nazi slang – would make much of this inaccessible to people who do not speak the languages. I do. But even so, referring to “Stucke” - which in proper German is Stücke, meaning pieces, to refer to body parts of chopped up Jewish prisoners – takes some getting used to.Another example is “Kat Zet I". Kat Zet is the shorthand that the characters in the novel use for “K” in German (pronounced “kai”) and “Z”in German (pronounced “tzet”). It is shorthand for Konzentrationslager, which means concentration camp. Later on it becomes clear Amis means Auschwitz. “Uncle Martin” is Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary during the Third Reich. “Buna-Werke” refers to Monowitz (also called Monowitz-Buna or Auschwitz III) a subcamp of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp, established in October 1942 by the SS at the behest of I.G. Farben executives, to provide slave labor for their Buna Werke (Buna Works) industrial complex for rubber production.HORROR PILED UPON HORRORIt got worse page by page from the moment that I realized what was being described – the giant death camp and rubber works at Auschwitz III. But this connected me to the name of the novel: IG Farben, the builders of the Buna Works, was a German chemical industry conglomerate, notorious for its role in the Holocaust. Its name is taken from Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG (Syndicate [literally, "community of interests"] - there’s the title - of dye-making corporations). Following the Nazi takeover of Germany, IG Farben became involved in numerous war crimes during World War II. Most notoriously, the firm's pro-Nazi leadership openly and knowingly collaborated with the Nazi government to produce the large quantities of Zyklon B necessary to gas to death millions of Jews and other "undesirables" at various extermination camps during the Holocaust. The firm ceased operating following the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, when the company was seized by the Allies; its assets were entirely liquidated in 1952, and 13 executives were imprisoned for terms ranging from 1 to 8 years at the Nuremberg Trials (specifically, the IG Farben Trial) for their roles in the atrocities.LOVE, EVEN IN WARSo, into this hellish scenario comes some form of a love story. The protagonist, “Golo Thomsen”, is a high-ranking officer trying to sabotage the Buna Works. He falls in love with “Hannah”, the wife of the “commandant”, commander of Kat Zet I, (“Kommandant” in German), of Kat Zet, “Paul Doll”. “Doll” is a nightmare of a human being and his wife hates him and the Nazi regime with venom:“’Doll was covered in blood. God, what a bullet does…and still trying to smile. I suddenly knew who he’d been all along. There he was, a nightmarish little boy. Caught doing something plainly disgusting. And still trying to smile.”(p. 291)In his novel Lionel ASBO, Amis depicts ASBO as evil, but also human - self-doubting at times, capable of being humiliated, and aware of his own low status. (Read my review of this novel here.) But “Paul Doll” is a far worse specimen of humanity, who does evil on a massive scale. Lionel ASBO has its black humour. This novel doesn’t even have the faintest whiff of a hint of a smidgen of humour. It is an amazing feat of language and imaging that Amis has performed to get himself into the heads of these characters, particularly the head of “Paul Doll”.The book is told from the perspectives of “Doll”, “Thomsen” and “Szmul”, leader of one of the “Sonderkommandos” at the camp who tries to save as many prisoners as he can. Credit has to go to Amis for so convincingly and fluently voicing these characters. (In his afterword Amis writes: “For the tics and rhythms of German speech my principal guide was Alison Owings and her Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich.”)“Szmul’s” “Sonderkommandos" were work units of German Nazi death camp prisoners, composed almost entirely of Jews, who were forced, on threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust. They had to deal with the “Stucke”. The term itself in German means “special unit”, and was one of the vague and euphemistic terms which the Nazis used to refer to aspects of their “Final Solution” – which is another euphemism.GRIPPING, SPARE DEPICTIONSAmis has shown he has a mean turn of phrase and a consummate talent for gripping, spare depictions that hits you in the gut. Here’s one:“The figures that held my attention were not the men in stripes, as they queued or scurried in lines or entangled one another in a kind of centipedal scrum, moving at an unnatural speed, like extras in a silent film, moving faster than their strength or build could bear, as if in obedience to a frantic crank swivelled by a furious hand; the figures that held my attention were not the Kapos who screamed at the prisoners, nor the SS noncoms who screamed at the Kapos, nor the overalled company foremen who screamed at the SS noncoms. No. What held my eye were the figures in city business suits, designers, engineers, administrators from IG Farben plants in Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Ludwigshafen, with leatherbound notebooks and retractable yellow measuring tapes, daintily picking their way past the bodies of the wounded, the unconscious, the dead.” (p. 89)As the war turns against the Nazis and the Allied forces move in, “Paul Doll” decides he wants to kill his wife. He instructs “Szmul” to shoot her, and if Szmul does not, Doll will deal with the wife he left behind in Poland. Szmul knows he is doomed in any case, that he, like the other ”Sonders” has lost his soul. But he remembers that one time, Hannah Doll greeted him and looked him in the eyes as if he were a normal human being. He tries to shoot himself instead, but Doll shoots him in the face.The story unfolds in horror upon horror; large numbers, large-scale atrocities, and small, painful nasty moments and bitter disillusionments (the relationship that “Paul Doll” has with his children, or with his prisoner mistress). The descriptions of torture are referred to obliquely, hinted at just enough to turn one’s stomach. Amis describes the burial pits at the camp like this:“I [Paul Doll] uneasily realized that I could actually hear the Spring Meadow. Said meadow began perhaps 10 metres beyond the mound where Prufer, Stroop, and Erkel stood with their hands pressed to their faces – but you could hear it. You could smell it, of course; and you could hear it. Popping, splatting, hissing.”The reader is nauseated as much by the image that jumps into your head, as by the unexpected corruption of the usually lovely image of a spring meadow. Never will green fields in war novels be quite the same.THE ZONE OF INTERESTUltimately, it’s a commentary on what people become in times of war. Which side they take – how they rationalize evil. Amis particularly questions the Germans’ “world-historical flair for hatred” in that era. Says “Golo Thomsen”: “Under National Socialism you looked in the mirror and saw your soul. You found yourself out. This applied par excellence and a fortiori (by many magnitudes), to the victims, or to those who lived for more than an hour and had time to confront their own reflections. And yet it also applies to everyone else, the malefactors, the collaborators, the witnesses, the conspirators, the outright martyrs (Red Orchestra, White Rose, the men and women of July 20), and even the minor obstructors, like me, and like Hannah Doll. We all discovered, or helplessly revealed, who we were. Who someone really was. That zone of interest.” (pp. 281, 282)REMEMBERING THOSE WHO DIEDAmis dedicates this book to “those who survived and to those who did not”, and his family, and in writing this novel, echoes the action of “Szmul”, who, before he dies, buries his record of the event for others to find. In fact, buried and hidden accounts by members of the Sonderkommando were found after the war at some camps. “On my way over there I will inhume everything I’ve written, in the Thermos flask beneath the gooseberry bush. And, by reason of that, not all of me will die.” (p.265).Amis also dedicates the book to Primo Levi, perhaps sharing with him his reason for writing about the Holocaust: Primo Levi wrote:“We, the survivors are not the true witnesses. The true witnesses, those in full possession of the terrible truth, ­ are the drowned, the submerged, the annihilated. We speak in their stead by proxy.”In The Drowned and the Saved Levi describes “the grey zone” ­ that of the privileged prisoner – he was himself a prisoner in the Buna Works. On the website of the Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Illona Klein analyses the chapter, “The Memory of the Offense”, “Levi once again takes upon himself the burden of retelling the unspeakable, of seeking explanations (after all he was a scientist trained to seek possible causes of unaccountable phenomena), of justifying himself and his actions during his captivity. He attempts some interpretations and tries to find some reasons - perhaps at times too rational - for an act of genocide, for which there can be no explanation. Almost invisibly interwoven with the poised, exterior calm of Levi's prose, used to create and define his arguments, is a fine thread of anguish: the fear of not being heard, the fear of not being believed. Other survivors who have chosen to write about their experiences have expressed the same pain. The identical fear has brought many survivors to choose silence, and in silence they still live today.Perhaps it is this anguish that moved Levi to bear once again the weight of public testimony to mankind: he refuses the point of view that sees survivors as "chosen," as people who made it through the unimaginable so that they could write and talk about their terrible experience. There can be no logical cause-effect relations in the events of the Holocaust.”Levy tells the story of the dead by proxy, and so does Amis.FALSE BUT COMPELLING NARRATORSYet, painting fully rounded, convincing portraits of even the worst Nazis characters – false narrators all of them but nonetheless compelling to read (Bormann and his “normal” family life, focused on breeding more perfect little Aryans; other Nazi leaders with their “normal” perversions; Doll with his “normal” preoccupation with managing the paperwork of mass murder, Golo with his darling aunt, Mrs. Bormann), Amis makes clear that this is not a straight bad guys-versus-good guys situation. Amis does not depict the Nazis as monsters, he depicts them as just going about their business, charming, wealthy, industrious and self-righteous. The reader realizes they are evil from what they think, believe and do in the midst of all this “normalcy”. It creates an almost unbearable tension in the novel. One moment “Paul Doll” is fretting about his children’s horse while waiting on the station platform, the next moment he blithely sends a couple of hundred Jews to their death, even while holding one little girl’s hand. It also emphasizes that this was a complex, many-faceted situation, and not to be over-simplified - even in a novel.Primo Levi is also is quite clear about this and admonishes the reader never to come to a superficial or hasty verdict: “One must beware of hindsight and stereotypes. More generally, one must beware of the error that consists in judging distant epochs and places with the yardstick that prevails in the here and now.... When it comes to the future, we are just as blind as our fathers.” Point taken. As we say on Poppy Day in the Ode of Remembrance, we honour the dead “…lest we forget.”

  • Toby
    2019-05-27 11:01

    I wonder when the tipping point occurred, where a new Martin Amis novel stopped being a disappointment because we expect so much of him, and became a pleasant surprise when anything genuinely good could be gleaned from its pages. That’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy in Yellow Dog or Lionel Asbo, or that House of Meetings wasn’t actually really quite an affecting read; I simply mean that the Amis narrative seems to have hit a point where anything he says or does that doesn’t make vast swathes of media correspondents violently throw up (stopping only briefly to write something contemptuous about him) is a pretty enormous achievement. And this is the man who wrote Money, London Fields and Time’s Arrow.My point is that the narrative surrounding ‘Little Keith’ makes a balanced assessment of his new work difficult. Every review thus far has mentioned his recently shabbiness or his perpetual Booker snubbing. And I too have clearly felt the need to caveat my response with a response to this phenomenon. And I too felt a level of precaution was called for when I pealed open the pages of this latest effort, a holocaust comedy, a holocaust love-story. Because there’s fucking up, and then there’s fucking up trying to show the funny side of the holocaust. Equally, I began to somewhat second-guess myself when, reaching a mid-way point, I started to feel that this was really a very good piece of writing. Having read several reviews, largely raving, and largely taking it as a given that a new Amis is a Major Event, I began to wonder if people really do read new Amis so excitedly, or in such large numbers. Of course long time fans do, and anyone seriously committed to disliking him (despite appearances, I suspect there are relatively few of Amis’s legion of haters who really take the time to hate him accurately) will have a crack, but does he have the kind of clout he’s supposed to? And if he doesn’t, I began to wonder what might keep people giving this book a go – which I think it deserves and would reward.The first thing I should address then is the comedic element of this book – yes, it is comic, but that isn’t a fixed quality. The comic aspect of this book is a bleak and brutish brand of irony, revelling in and revealing the contradictions, bathos, and masculine delusions of some of our most hideous men in our most hideous moment. David Sexton writes in the Evening Standard that writing comedically about the holocaust is ‘just plain wrong’, an inherent affront, but the way Amis handles his humour is not to glorify or trivialize these monsters, but to show them in at their most sub-human and senseless.There is a confidence about this writing – in fact, in writing on this subject at all! – which is refreshing; he is in control. One thing noticeably absent here are Amis’s classic propensity toward little essayistic meanderings, which whilst often brilliant and effective in the overriding structure of his books, have always struck me as perhaps belying a lack of confidence in his dramatic gift - and it is a gift. Here, however, he allows scenes to play out largely without self-conscious interjection, allows the drama simply to sit. And it gives the book a sense of focus and purpose which I at least found infectious. By the hundredth page, I believed everything was there for a reason. There is a sense of accumulation, even when the structure seems to meander, even when everything isn’t fitting entirely into place, and this all makes sense finally when you read the extensive research done for the book, and reach the final 30 pages, which are quite stunning and I feel the most satisfying ending Amis has even produced.Amis gets inside the linguistic ticks of his three narrators beautifully, exploring the euphemistic, self-justifying Paul Doll, and the fascinating internal contortions of Golo Thomen, a love-struck concentration-camp officer. What is most affecting though are the brief, elliptical interjections of Szmul, a jew who has been forced to work for the Germans. They punctuate the other’s monologues, and seem to reveal more starkly, and with a cruel clarity, the horrors hinted at in the quiet corners of the main narrative. Throughout his career, Amis’s blind-spot has always been profundity. At various times, he has latched onto some subject or other (nuclear war, astrology) and tried to tie his observations about men and life around this to create some profound unity. However, here he seems to have embraced a sense of futility, of meaninglessness, and that has allowed him somehow to reach some profound coherence. He stops trying to explain everything, and instead makes beautiful motions around the understanding that things cannot be explained. The futility he describes then becomes a perfect counterbalance to the frustrations of masculinity. This is clearly a book about the Nazis, about anti-Semitic mania, and about overwhelming cruelty. And yet what he has to say about that is summed up perfectly well in the post-script, and is based largely on other’s thoughts. Instead, what is truly exceptional about this book is what it says about men and masculinity within those notions. I don’t often get evangelical about books, and I certainly wouldn’t shove a book like this down anyone’s throat, but I really think this could be an ‘important’ book. If for no other reason that anyone who might, twenty years ago, have given a new Amis a look purely because they enjoy perfectly sculpted sentences or well timed jokes, would decide that a new Amis IS always worth a look. It’s fairly clear the real ‘excitement’ surrounding an Amis release has gone – that seems largely to be something broadsheets journalists simply assume will be there, but sales don’t lie. I wonder if this book won’t be a slow-burner though, and build up enthusiasm in the way books by writers of Mr. Amis’s reputation and infamy rarely do. But it will happen. It should happen. I hope it happens.

  • Gaylord Dold
    2019-05-29 12:47

    Mostly an ossuary, the lamentable twentieth century and its Nazi Holocaust remains on Martin Amis’ mind. And why wouldn’t it, given that there is no adequate response to Primo Levi’s question “Warum?, which the Auschwitz survivor asked of his German guard. The guard replied, “Hier ist kein warum.” Why? Here there is no why.Nevertheless, Amis, one of the premier fiction stylists working in the English language, continues to ask, trying to worm his way through to some sort of analysis of that which nominally defies analysis---mass killing based on ideological ravings but carried out by otherwise “observably” normal people. In “Times Arrow: or The Nature of the Offense” (1991), Amis used Auschwitz as the setting for the story of a Nazi doctor who experimented on human subjects, narrating the tale in reverse order from the instant of the doctor’s death to the moment of his conception, perhaps thinking that reverse engineering might provide an imaginative clue to the riddle of banal evil. Amis returns to Auschwitz in “The Zone of Interest”, pursuing further clues, explanations, and clarifications, this time by obliquely articulating the duties and personalities of various functionaries in their domiciles and headquarters at Kat Zet I, a labor-death camp that its commander describes as “a dumping ground for 2nd-rate blunderers.”Kat Zet I is a rail terminus where Jews are off-loaded and sorted into two groups--- those selected to die immediately, and those who are gassed later, after being worked nearly to death. Sometimes violinists greet the transports, to soothe the transition. The old and young, mostly, are sent off to the gas chambers immediately, their bodies burned and ground into ash, after their gold fillings, jewelry, clothing, hair and anything else useful for the Reich are sorted through by Jews. These undifferentiated remains are deposited in the Spring Meadow, which emits a terrible stench. Amis tells his story through the eyes of three major narrators.Angelus (Golo) Thomsen is the nephew of Martin Bormann, nominally Hitler’s secretary, the man who “controls the appointment book of the Deliverer”. Thomsen is a labor organizer for the Buna-Werke, sweating blood from the prisoners, casting his “blue eyed Aryan” gaze on Hannah, the wife of the camp commander, Paul Doll. Thomsen is one of those rueful Nazis, part of the machine yet distanced from the Dead, interested in his laurels and unbothered by the circumstance, assuming no blame. On the other hand, Paul Doll, the commandant, is a buffoon and sexual failure, whose Teutonic wife Hannah brutalizes him for sport. Even Doll’s children (two cherubic monster female twins) find him pathetic, as they twist him around their sporty little fingers. Mostly Doll drinks heavily (even the camp guards ridicule, privately, his alcoholism) and feels the pressure of being caught between the demands of the Economic Administration and Central Security—in other words, between the demands of Death Quotas and Labor Quotas. Finally, there is Szmul, head of the “Sonders”, Jews conscripted (with the promise of more, brief life) to graze for gold teeth among the cadavers.The task Amis has set himself in this satirical, ironical and at times blackly comical novel is formidable. Using streams of half-German phrases that pile up like de-railed boxcars, dialogues which quiver and quail with official dogma and obscene strings of official nomenklatura (the Nazis had a hierarchy rivaling that of wolves, though based mostly on uniforms and decorations), and finally, interior monologues that reek of a Hogan’s Heroes scene gone terribly wrong, Amis herds the reader towards the end of the War and its final reckoning.Actually, only Thomsen survives the War in 1948, one of those de-Nazified Germans working with the Americans on the “Bundesentcchadingungsgesetz”---setting up guidelines for reparations to the victims of the Holocaust, a supreme irony. What happens to the reader is less clear. The novel, with its Amis-brilliancy of wit and erudition, seems out of kilter with the vileness of the Holocaust. It’s mixing-in of German sounds false and feels like a kick in the pants. In fact, the whole undertaking has an unpleasant voyeuristic aura as an artistic undertaking, full of bravura. There is, no doubt, a good reason why the best approach to the Holocaust comes from reading survivor memoirs or the original minimalist fictions of someone like W.G. Sebald. Amis himself, in an “Afterword” admits his own helplessness to understand the Holocaust, the “electric severity with which it repels our contact and our grip.”Long-time Amis publishers in France and Germany have refused to translate and publish the book, though smaller publishers have agreed to take up the slack. The book was widely praised on its appearance in the United Kingdom. American critics have largely responded with praise as well. Better, however, to read the great works of history (Trever-Roper, Martin Gilbert etc.), or any of the dozens listed in Amis’ Afterword, or even a Kafka-dreamscape by Aharon Applefeld, than to hope that “The Zone of Interest” will clarify, much less answer, the original question, “Why?”

  • Phil
    2019-05-25 09:56

    I did not enjoy this book. This was my first exposure to Martin Amis, an author about whom I know almost nothing. Apart from his father being Kingsley Amis.It tells a simple tale of three characters dueing the years 1941 to 1948. An extermination camp commandant, Paul Doll, A nephew of Boormann, Golo Thomsen and Szmul a Jewish labourer at the camp. The core story is Thomsen falls in love with Doll’s wife Hannah, who is essentially unobtainable beauty, he cannot have. After the war she does not to be with him as he is a reminder to her of the horror of it all. Paul Doll watches on convincing himself he is a normal man, who just cannot see the horror of what he does, not having a realistic view of the inevitable outcome of the war. Szul provides the reader with an insight into what is really go on in the camp. There were several aspects to the book that I disliked. Excessive use of German language and terms, which broke the flow of the narrative. An endless litany of irrelevant characters and names that added nothing to the story. Continuing reference to genitals and other bodily parts, also in German, that had a childlike obsessiveness to it. Above all I was not convinced by the characters. I have written this review, as much as anything because I felt it annoyed me that this book was not more. I suspect this is because it is meant to satirize the bureaucratic nature of “The Final Solution”. I know some people will love this as literature. I just struggle to see what it has to offer. Perhaps it worked as I felt moved to write this piece. I admit I read for enjoyment, but I did not enjoy this.

  • Andrew Robins
    2019-06-02 11:04

    Halfway through this book, I was convinced I hated it. The irritating Amis literary tics are all manifested here to one extent or another - the self satisfying overuse of German phrases (later we hear words to the effect that the Holocaust could only have happened "In German", that being the point), the conveyance of "blokeishness" from a very "unblokeish" writer (take a look at Lionel Asbo for an idea how cringemaking Amis can be when it comes to the social sneer), the use of numbers throughout - not "one" or "two" but 1 and 2 - to sledgehammer home a point about "numbers" in the context of the holocaust. There are plenty of annoyances along those lines.As it turned out, I was both annoyed by it, but enjoyed it. I fell in line, in other words.All the way through, though, I couldn't shake off a nagging thought about how this book would have been received had it been written by someone who wasn't Martin Amis. Nothing like as rapturously, I suspect.Is it worth reading? Yes. Is it in any way breaking new ground or delivering something new to the subject? No. I read Ostland by David Thomas earlier this year, another book about "normal" people in the Nazi killing machine, and thought that was a far, far superior book, yet it will no doubt fly under the radar as The Zone of Interest garners the plaudits, which strikes me as a shame.

  • AC
    2019-06-10 10:41

    Stunning. Enormously underrated. Intelligent, unflinching, and deeply moving. Review to follow, perhaps.

  • Sini
    2019-05-20 14:09

    Zelden heeft een boek zulke uiteenlopende kritieken gehad als "The zone of interest" van Amis: afgeserveerd als mislukking maar door anderen bejubeld als meesterwerk, geweigerd door zijn vaste uitgevers in Duitsland en Frankrijk maar volgens sommige critici Amis' beste roman in jaren. Zelf vertrouwde ik het boek eerst niet, ook al omdat ik Amis al lang niet meer volg. Maar het sleurde mij helemaal mee. Veel kriticasters vinden dit boek een ongemakkelijk mengsel van dingen die niet samengaan. En dat vind ik dus ook, maar ik vind die ongemakkelijke combinatie juist de kracht van dit boek. Het draait namelijk om de holocaust, om de hel van Auschwitz, om een verschrikking die we nooit zullen begrijpen en doorgronden. Want ook als je alle feitelijke gegevens van de holocaust kent begrijp je nog steeds het 'waarom' niet, simpelweg omdat de holocaust geen rationeel waarom HEEFT. En precies dat ontbrekende waarom komt naar mijn smaak echt prachtig en nagelhard naar voren in deze uitermate bevreemdende en absurdistische roman.In het verhaal zijn drie mensen afwisselend in de ik- vorm aan het woord: een wat frivole en Arische SS-officier, neef van Martin Bormann, die pogingen doet om de vrouw te veroveren van de kampcommandant van Auschwitz; de kampcommandant zelf, een ijzingwekkende sadist die zodanig grotesk en satirisch wordt neergezet dat je schatert en huivert tegelijk; en Szmul, hoofd van het "Sonderkommando", dus van de groep Joden die de stapels van Joodse lijken opruimt en gouden tanden uit hun monden trekt, wetend dat zij zelf ooit tussen deze lijken zullen liggen. Deze laatste figuur is tragisch, uitermate ontroerend ook: getuige van enorme verschrikkingen, waarover hij op bijna verstilde wijze vertelt. Maar Szmuls zo tragische en verstilde toon wordt dan steeds afgewisseld met de volkomen groteske en satirische toon in de stukken over de kampcommandant. En die worden weer afgewisseld met het op zichzelf al vervreemdende (naar de smaak van velen zelfs ronduit ongepaste) motief van iemand die zich uitgerekend in Auschwitz overgeeft aan frivole en romantische gevoelens voor de vrouw van die kampcommandant. Drie vertellers, drie verschillende toonsoorten, en nooit komt het tot een harmonische samenklank van die toonsoorten. Maar juist die soms onaangename disharmonie past m.i. helemaal bij Auschwitz, een bij uitstek disharmonisch en dissonant oord.De stukken waarin de kampcommandant aan het woord is versterken die dissonantie nog aanzienlijk. Want juist die stukken staan vol met werkelijk nagelharde grappen. Zowel uiterst foute grappen van de man zelf over zijn slachtoffers, als groteske taferelen waarin de man zelf zo enorm ontspoort dat je niet meer weet waar je kijken moet. Bovendien praat de man in een mengelmoes van Duits en upperclass Engels, wat bijna Monthy Python-achtig absurd is en bij mij ook associaties met de serie 'Allo,allo' opriep. Volslagen lachwekkend dus, alleen vergaat het lachen je meteen omdat hij wel over massamoord praat. De Duitse termen zijn bovendien uitermate racistisch of anderszins onaangenaam: de kampgevangen worden bijvoorbeeld aangeduid als 'Stucke', dus 'stuks', alsof het geen mensen zijn. Ook heel vervreemdend en ontregelend is het enorme contrast tussen het ogenschijnlijk zo gepolijste karakter van het upper class Engels en de totale ongepolijstheid van de commandant zelf. Extra ongemakkelijk is dat rabiaat Nazistische uitspraken ook heel goed in upper class Engels blijken te kunnen worden gedaan, en niet in schreeuwerig Duits alleen. Daardoor komt die krankjorume commandant, hoe anders hij ook moge zijn dan wij, toch weer verontrustend dichtbij. Zijn naam is overigens Doll, een normale Duitse naam die in het Engels echter 'pop' betekent: alsof hij de groteske marionet is van oncontroleerbare aandriften, of een Jan Klaassen om wie je alleen maar lachen kunt. Wat ook zo is, alleen, tegelijk is hij ook een vreeswekkende sadist. Die wel weer op bijna hilarische wijze alle controle verliest, maar toch. Met Doll heeft Amis naar mijn smaak echt op briljante wijze een even heterogene als lachwekkende als verontrustende figuur geschapen. Een personage uit de hel vervormd door een lachspiegel, fundamenteel ongerijmd en daardoor een treffende pars pro toto van de waanzin van Auschwitz. En dan staat Doll ook nog eens in contrast met Szmul, en de frivole SS-officier. Dat contrast wordt bovendien steeds ingewikkelder en ingewikkelder, omdat die twee personages ook tamelijk meerkantig zijn. De SS-officier heet Golo, wat een verbastering is van het verheven Angelus: dat, samen met zijn frivole en promiscue gedrag, roept associaties met een operette-figuur op. En dat is hij zeker, maar tegelijk is hij in zijn liefde ook oprecht, doet hij ook pogingen om de machinerie van Auschwitz te saboteren en begroet hij de naderende nederlaag van Duitsland met vrolijk gemoed. Maar ja, hij blijft wel medeschuldig aan precies diezelfde machinerie, en blijft toch genegenheid koesteren voor zijn fors Nazistische familie hoe dom hij die soms ook vindt. Kortom, Golo is niet zo grotesk als Doll, maar wel vol tegenstrijdigheid. En dat geldt toch ook voor Szmul: als vervolgde Jood die alles en iedereen verloren heeft een tragisch slachtoffer, maar als lid van het Sonderkommando is hij ook een pleger van veel verachtelijke misdaad, door alle wroeging en wanhoop die hij daardoor heeft en al zijn weerloosheid is hij weer een tragisch slachtoffer, maar door sommige dingen die hij doet of die hij weigert te doen is hij ineens ook een held.Eigenlijk is het een idioot ongerijmd boek. Maar dat is goed, want het gaat over een idioot ongerijmd onderwerp. De stijl is bovendien vaak adembenemend. Niet alles is even sterk: sommige verontwaardigde passages over WOII en de holocaust zijn nogal clichématig, sommige plotwendingen nogal onwaarschijnlijk. Maar ik vond het wel een ijzersterk boek. Dus ben ik blij dat ik het gelezen heb, al moet ik nu wel even bijkomen, want al die nagelharde realiteit en gitzwarte absurditeit laat je als lezer niet onberoerd.

  • Neil Fox
    2019-06-13 06:04

    Martin Amis' "The Zone of interest" is a dark, disturbing satire on the banality and casual nature of evil brutality. Set in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, the story is alternately narrated by 3 characters, the scheming womanizing Golo Thomsen, the "Sodernkommandofuher" or collaborating prisoner Szmul, and the sadistic camp commandant Paul Doll. The dehumanization and mechanization of the business of death is achieved through the adoption of formal language and the avoidence of direct reference to what is going on, with the daily acts of mass murder reduced to a day-at-the-office type routine, much as "American Psycho" portrayed the business of serial killing.The book is reminiscent of "Sophie's Choice" and the character of Doll is certainly evocative of Amon Goeth from "Schindler's Ark" with his nonchalant, sadistic personality and his casual, bored attitude toward violence and his deranged playing-God complex. Amis adopts a curious style which becomes more pronounced as the book progresses of having his characters speak English infused with the German language and expressions. This is obviously designed to be satirical, but has the effect of reducing the dialogue into a parody of itself, almost turning it into Springtime for Hitler from Mel Brooks' "The Producers" - witness "She's short in the unterschenkel Alisz, but she has a glorious hinterteil". In fact Amis has one of his characters muse "I wonder if the story of National Socialism could have unfolded in any other other language". This satirical element combined with the business-like formality of the characters as they go about their unspeakable tasks makes language central to the mood of the book.Amis captures the feelings and texture of life not just in the concentration camp system but in the 3rd Reich itself, what it took to either decend into insanity or alternatively survive, similar to Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" or Hans Fallada's "Alone in Berlin".In a fascinating epilogue that is worth a read in itself independent of the book, Amis attempts to understand the motivations of Hitler and the Nazis and explores the debate and thinking of the "why" of the holocost,a desolate question that has haunted historians and will never be fully understood.

  • Jack
    2019-05-17 14:08

    Set in a WWII concentration camp, this biting satire and brilliant exploration of the remaining buds and bare shreds of humanity is the best read I've had in ages. A must for Amis fans, a great starter if you haven't read him before.

  • Licia
    2019-06-03 07:48

    il romanzo narra le atrocità dei campi di concentramento e del nazismo da tre punti di vista differenti: Golo, il tipico ariano ma disinteressato alla faccenda, nonostante suo zio sia il segretario personale di Hitler, Paul Doll, Kommandant e tipico nazista convinto che la missione di sterminare gli avversari e l'impurità dentro il Reich sia giusta, e Szmul, ebreo arruolato nei Sonderkommando, definito l'uomo più triste di tutti, dato il suo compito di seppellire i cadaveri di ebrei e comunisti dopo le docce a gas. ognuno dei tre dà la sua visione della situazione: Golo si dimostra completamente indifferente e disinteressato, Paul Doll è assuefatto che non vede che il nazismo è in declino, e Szmul, che sa che un giorno morirà e si prepara serenamente.è la prima opera che leggo di Martin Amis e devo ammettere che mi ha colpito, anche se ho letto questo libro per un esame dai risvolti sociologici.

  • Hugo Emanuel
    2019-06-10 05:58

    Amis é um autor extremamente frustrante e decepcionante. Quando começo a leitura de um romance de Amis espero sempre ser arrebatado por uma prosa energética, carregada de verve e humor negro que pontuaria uma narrativa simples mas deliciosamente mordaz e cortante. No entanto, quando o termino sinto-me apenas algo defraudado nas minhas expetativas (que cada vez mais me convenço serem progressivamente mais irrealistas, sei-o agora). Estas expetativas são alimentadas pelo imenso prazer que obtive de algumas das suas obras - adorei o degradante hedonismo explorado em "Money", a inveja literária in extremis presente em "A Informação", os mecanismo metaficionais pós-modernistas que rodeavam o bizarro enredo de "London Fields". No entanto, para cada "Money" há um "A Viuva grávida"; por cada "London Fields" um "Linel Asbo"; para cada "A Informação" um "Os Papeís de Rachel"; e para cada "A Seta do Tempo" um ""A Zona de Interesse". "A Zona de Interesse" parecia, em teoria, ter todos os ingredientes necessários para ser um livro brilhante - um autor com uma prosa viva e mordaz, possuidor de uma visão comicamente negra da realidade e do ser humano, que pesquisara extensivamente o tema sobre o qual se proponha a escrever. O verso do livro ainda incluía uma alegoria "conto de fadas" que parecia aplicar-se como uma luva ao tema em questão. E no entanto, mais uma vez, Amis decepciona. Certos aspetos da obra estão muito bem executados - o humor, quando surge, ridiculariza de modo bem eficaz os nazis e as incongruências do pensamento fascista; a demonstração de como o sofrimento e crueldade dos campos de concentração eram, para os executores das mais odiosas torturas, apenas inconvenientes burocráticos, impedimentos à progressão de carreira e faux-pas sociais; certas alegorias a que o autor recorre são arrepiantes e adequadas. No entanto, a historia central pareceu-me, em ultima analise, relativamente inconsequente e as passagens que se referiam às vitimas da perseguição nazi (inclusive o testemunho de uma destas) demasiado frias e incapazes de capturar o horror de tal condição. E claro, mais uma vez, Amis parece revelar saber muito pouco sobre o género feminino, ou pelo menos, não saber criar uma personagem feminina convincente. Confesso que uma fraca caracterização feminina e incapacidade de expôr adequadamente o sofrimento das vitimas do Holocausto era algo com que já contava, uma vez que se tratava de Amis, que parece ter sempre alguma dificuldade em caracterizar convincentemente mulheres e vitimas. No entanto, que se tratasse de um romance tão pouco apaixonante e frio sobre um tema tão enfurecedor e lamentável foi algo que me apanhou desprevenido. Nem mesmo umas ultimas páginas ligeiramente mais emocionantes conseguiram elevar a obra às quatro estrelas. Um sólido 3.5 em 5, mas nem um pontinho mais.

  • Paul Fulcher
    2019-05-20 12:06

    The best part of Zone of Interest is Martin Amis's afterword, where he provides a personal survey of holocaust literature, both fictional and non-fictional, and explains his rationale for writing the novel.The Zone of Interest is written by three alternating narrators.The first, a nephew of Martin Bormann, is the most complex. He starts seemingly as a callous and amoral individual, treating Auschwitz primarily as a game and a fertile hunting ground for his amorous conquests. But following a passive love affair with the commandant's wife, he moves during the novel, not entirely convincingly to the reader it has to be said, to passive then even semi-active resistance to the regime, and after the war even works to make amends. The second is a rather comic character, the camp commandant. The real-life commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss wrote a death-cell autobiography and in the foreword to the published version, Primo Levi comments that "The author comes across as what he is: a coarse, stupid, arrogant, long winded scoundrel". This - together with Hannah Arend's famous "banality of evil" description of Eichmann - nicely describes Paul Doll, but he is something of a caricature - David Brent as a Nazi commander. The third is Szmul, head of a team of "Sonders", Jewish prisoners who assist the Nazis in dealing with the arriving prisoners and then disposing of the remains. Amis explores the moral conflicts in Szmul's role - but his courage as an author fails him in applying his usual sardonic humour to Szmul's predicament, meaning that these chapters fit rather oddly with the rest of the novel, indeed they are notably shorter.The other odd editorial decision is the consistent scattering of German words through the text, sometimes humorously (‘She’s short in the Unterschenkel, Alisz, but she has a glorious Hinterteil'), sometimes translated, mostly by the characters themselves and with the translation often delayed for dramatic effect. It's not at all clear to me what Amis was trying to achieve: the actual effect is very odd - it comes across as if the characters are English speakers living in Nazi Germany, and dropping in their limited knowledge of German terms for local colour. Overall, the novel itself is ultimately rather unsatisfying. It's not that he trivialises the topic, rather than the novel simply lacks power. The reader would be better to simply read the afterword only and go directly to the source material (as well as much better novels by the likes of Imre Kertesz.)

  • Tony
    2019-05-20 14:08

    THE ZONE OF INTEREST. (2014). Martin Amis. *****.Written in a manner that puts the reader in the picture, Amis continues his exploration of the Nazi era with his latest novel. There are several major characters who each get a chance to narrate the story, but there is also an unnamed narrator who peeks in on occasion. The setting is primarily a concentration/extermination camp. The principal players are officers in charge of various facets of the camp’s operations, including the commandant. Although we are made aware of what goes on in such a place, the focus is on the lives of the officers, and, in one case, of a wife and children. Although most of the officers are loyal to the vision of Hitler (who is not named in the book, though referred to by a variety of nicknames), they show the effects of their duties in a variety of ways. Insofar as they have personal lives, those lives are affected by their jobs. You soon realize, too, that they are all fearful of their status and stability within the Nazi organization, and make sure that their behavior will always reflect favorably for their superiors. It is almost impossible to outline the plot of this novel, but you are soon swept up in its telling. The camp itself is a twisted version of Peyton Place, but with the added sidebar that prisoners are constantly being murdered. The extent of the author’s research into the Nazi hierarchy and the way it worked is awesome. You may have to brush up on your German for some of the language, but Amis doesn’t leave us hanging for difficult phrases. Each of the officers involved with the workings of the camp has his own secret self that he hides from the outside world. We soon realize that the “zone of interest” is that hidden part of each man as seen through the “mirror of National Socialism.” I highly recommend this novel.