Martin Amis’s new Holocaust novel “The Zone of Interest” is getting rave reviews in the US and UK, but Amis’s French and German publishers passed on the book.
The book centers on the German concentration camp Auschwitz, where the stories of commander of the camp Paul, nephew of Hitler’s secretary Thomsen, and Szmul, who is a prisoner at the camp, all converge.
“Zone” is forthcoming in the US – it will be released on Sept. 30 – but is already racking up positive reviews. NPR writer Alan Cheuse called it “a book that may stand for years as the triumph of [Amis’s] career.”
“It felt as though I had touched a third rail, so powerful and electric is the experience of reading it,” Cheuse wrote. “The web of actions that Amis constructs around the love affair [Thomsen falls in love with Paul’s wife Hannah] … rises to the level of brilliance…. Szmul emerges as a virtually Shakespearean figure, in the scope of his insight and the ironic majesty of his descent from virtue to earthly monster in order to survive.”
Publishers Weekly awarded the book a starred review, calling it “brilliant … devastating,” while Barbara Love of Library Journal called it “essential reading … as audacious as it is chilling” and Kirkus Reviews wrote it is “an indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul.”
Many reviewers in the UK, where it was released in August, have also been impressed, with Guardian critic Alex Preston writing that it is “the best thing [Amis] has written since ‘London Fields’… this is a novel that will endure.” Meanwhile, Bryan Appleyard of the Sunday Times wrote that the book is “brilliant: a technical and aesthetic tour de force.”
However, French publisher Gallimard, which according to the New York Times is Amis’s “longtime” publisher, will not be releasing the book there at this time. “It wasn’t very convincing,” Amis’s editor Marie-Pierre Gracedieu told the NYT. “It was for literary reasons.” However, French publisher Calmann-Lévy will be publishing the novel next fall.
Amis’s editor Piero Salabè at his German publisher Carl Hanser Verlag told the NYT that the publisher passing on the book had “nothing to do with the Holocaust being a sensitive issue in Germany” and that “our decision was based on the book’s contents as well as on economic considerations… [Amis] is a major literary figure, but unfortunately not in Germany, so we could not hope to make a best seller with his new book…. [Amis’s book ‘The Pregnant Widow’] sold modestly.” Salabè said the publisher had also decided not to release Amis’s 2008 book “The Second Plane.”
Amis’s agent Andrew Wylie told the NYT he thinks a new publisher in Germany will turn up quickly.
According to Amis, who told the NYT he was “surprised and disappointed” by the decisions by Gallimard and Carl Hanser Verlag (“But you never quite know what motivates them,” he said), to his knowledge Carl Hanser Verlag said they wouldn’t be publishing the book because of “inconsistencies in the plot” and because SS officer Thomsen identified too much with the Nazi ideology.
“In fact, a careful reading of the book will show he’s never a servant of the regime, that he was always at least trying to frustrate various policies, and halfway through, he becomes an active saboteur,” Amis said.