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The Emperor of Lies

Written by Steve Sem-Sandberg

Translated by Sarah Death

  • 672 Pages
  • 9781770890411
  • FICTION / Historical
  • FICTION / Literary



Publication Date July 20, 2011

Longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

In February 1940, the Nazis established what would become the second-largest Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lódz. Its chosen leader: Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a sixty-three-year-old Jewish businessman and orphanage director -- and the elusive, authoritarian power sustaining the ghetto’s very existence.

From one of Sweden's most critically acclaimed and bestselling authors, The Emperor of Lies chronicles the tale of Rumkowski's monarchical rule over a quarter-million Jews for the next four years. Driven by a titanic ambition, he sought to transform the ghetto into a productive industrial complex and strove to make it --and himself -- indispensable to the Nazi regime. Drawing on the detailed records of life in the Lódz ghetto, Steve Sem-Sandberg captures the full panorama of human resilience and probes deeply into the nature of evil. He asks the most difficult questions: Was Rumkowski a ruthless opportunist, an accessory to the Nazi regime driven by a lust for power? Or was he a pragmatic strategist who managed to save Jewish lives through his collaboration policies?

Winner of the August Prize, Sweden’s most important literary award, The Emperor of Lies is a haunting, profoundly challenging novel.

Selected for the Globe and Mail Top 100 Book 2011

Long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012

Long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2013


Steve Sem-Sandberg
Steve Sem-Sandberg is an award-winning Swedish writer, critic, and translator. He is the author of twelve novels and four works of nonfiction. He has won a number of literary prizes, including the August Prize, the Aftonbladet Literary Award, and the De Nios Grand Award, and was a finalist for the prestigious Nordic Council Literary Award on two occasions. His critically acclaimed and powerful novel The Emperor of Lies has been published in more than twenty-five languages. He divides his time between Vienna and Stockholm.

Sarah Death
Sarah Death is a translator, literary scholar, and editor of the UK-based journal Swedish Book Review. She lives in England.


"Steve Sem-Sandberg recreates the ghetto with intelligent meticulousness and passionate invention . . . [a] masterly novel." Independent

"[Steve Sem-Sandberg] writes with extraordinary detail . . . terribly moving . . . [The Emperor of Lies] succeeds admirably in chronicling the horrors of everyday life in the Lodz ghetto." Publishers Weekly

"The Emperor of Lies is a novel about heart-wrenching suffering and extraordinary evil, transformed by [Steve] Sem-Sandberg's talents into an irresistible work of fiction, absorbing from first page to last . . . Dickens would have been very pleased with this novel." Guardian

". . . extraordinary . . . a brilliantly sustained work of historical fiction." Telegraph

". . . utterly convincing, rich in sympathy and understanding . . . It is a harrowing document, into which Sem-Sandberg's breathes life . . ." Scotsman

"The author brings all the characters vividly to life. Through Sem-Sandberg's richly compelling narrative, this story of heart-wrenching suffering and extraordinary evil is absorbing from beginning to end." Toowoomba Chronicle

"The story of Lodz is, through any prism, a grim tale. But, if it must be told (and, for all the pain, it must) then it is in redeeming hands with Sem-Sandberg." Jewish Chronicle

". . . to date, no novel has inquired so profoundly or resonantly into the labyrinths of a heart and soul and mind like Rumkowski's -- or made reading it so vital or compelling an obligation." Winnipeg Free Press

". . . a stunning achievement . . . [Steve] Sem-Sandberg is a highly skilled writer." Rover Arts

"The Emperor of Lies is a chilling and illuminating look at a period of history that has been analyzed and reconstructed before, but rarely in quite so three-dimensional a fashion." New York Times

". . . a masterful achievement -- spare, harrowing, and profoundly sad." Sunday Business Post

"... a brilliantly constructed novel, massive, detailed, teeming with characters; it captures the reader from almost the first page and does not let go ..." Globe and Mail

"The history of the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos has been amply recorded, documented and depicted elsewhere, in archives and in fiction. But to date, no novel has inquired so profoundly or resonantly into the labyrinths of a heart and soul and mind like Rumkowski’s -- or made reading it so vital or compelling an obligation." Ottawa Citizen

"... an engaging writer ... [Steve Sem-Sandberg] has turned the rare trick of writing about the Holocaust in a way that takes us beyond the theme of epic Nazi evil that otherwise overpowers the entire genre." National Post

"Utterly involving, morally scrupulous, written with a verve and pace that belie its dreadful setting, The Emperor of Lies -- in Sarah Death's masterly translation -- really does renew the genre." Independent

"... phenomenal ... Sem-Sandberg deftly mixes fiction and fact in The Emperor of Lies ... a remarkable work." Jewish Independent