Friday, January 23, 2015

The Zone of Interest

by Martin Amis
305 pgs

In The Zone of Interest Martin Amis takes the risky approach of detailing the horrors of the holocaust through the eyes of those who perpetrated it. The title refers to the area in the town of Auschwitz where Jews were brought by train and sorted, either to be used as forced labor or to be gassed immediately. Amis uses three different narrators throughout the book, rotating through each of them every chapter. Each one provides a different perspective on what is taking place at the death camp and their varying levels of commitment and understanding of their own involvement in it.

The first narrator is Golo Thomsen, a mid-level Nazi officer who runs the work factory. Thomsen represents the duality of many Germans during the war. Physically, Thomsen is the ideal Aryan specimen--six feet three, blue eyes, blond hair, and built like an Olympic athlete. Mentally, Thomsen is torn between his allegiance to his country and his uncle, who is a high-ranking Nazi Officer, and with what he sees before him every day. Thomsen though goes about doing what he's been ordered to do, more concerned with seducing Helen Doll, the wife of the camp commandant, than he is with the atrocities playing out at the camp.

The second narrator is Paul Doll, camp commandant, a man with minimal intelligence and even less of a conscience. Doll is constantly trying to balance the two conflicting directives he's tasked with: increase the production level of the camp's factory, which uses Jewish slave labor, and exterminate as many of the Jews as was possible. Doll is the type of man who attends Nazi concerts and spends the entire time calculating the logistics of what it would take to gas the entire audience, while unable to see that his wife is involved with Golo Thomsen.

The third narrator is Szmul, a Jew in the camp who heads the "Sonders," the team of Jewish prisoners who are given extra rations in return for assisting the Nazis in killing and disposing of their fellow Jews. Szmul has rationalized his actions in his mind by believing that the only way he can prolong his life and possibly bear witness to what took place, is to help the enemy.

Amis deftly uses satire and irony to describe the atrocities and horrors of the Holocaust. His muted humor is directed at those who were seemingly capable of overlooking their own moral decrepitude, as they engaged in acts and behavior that most consider unfathomable.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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