The Zone of Interest

Mar­tin Amis
  • Review
By – February 2, 2015

Unlike his­to­ri­ans, nov­el­ist are free to use their imag­i­na­tion in writ­ing about his­tor­i­cal events. When it comes to writ­ing fic­tion about the Holo­caust, how­ev­er, this free­dom requires a great deal of sen­si­tiv­i­ty when recre­at­ing the Nazi objec­tive to rid the world of its Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion. Mar­tin Amis, the author of numer­ous nov­els includ­ing Time’s Arrow, a work of fic­tion whose sub­ject is the Shoah, has man­aged in his lat­est work to deliv­er not only a love sto­ry with­in the con­fines of Auschwitz, but also a devastat­ing por­trait of the Nazi per­pe­tra­tors. Through Szmul, a Jew­ish Son­derkom­man­do forced to work in the cre­ma­to­ria, Amis sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly describes the hope­less­ness of the Jews await­ing death in The Zone of Inter­est — the gas cham­bers — as well as the vio­lence and cru­el­ty of the Nazi guards.

The nov­el is told from the per­spec­tive of fic­tional char­ac­ters such Paul Doll, the Comman­dant of the Buna-Werks; Golo Thom­sen, the nephew of Mar­tin Bor­mann; and Szmul, the only hero­ic char­ac­ter in the nov­el. Amis shows us the vir­u­lent anti-Semi­tism of Bor­mann and his wife Ger­da, the per­ver­sions of Ilse Grese, who was hanged by the British after the war, and oth­er Nazi nota­bles.” He describes the arro­gance dis­played by the Nazi offi­cials on the eve of their inva­sion of the Sovi­et Union and the man­ner in which they respond­ed to their dev­as­tat­ing defeat. Amis’s Nazis are venal and sadis­tic, not the banal Nazi char­ac­ter­ized by Han­nah Arendt in Eich­mann in Jerusalem.

Lest we think the nov­el is a total prod­uct of Amis’s imag­i­na­tion, the read­er will find a com­pre­hen­sive anno­tat­ed bib­li­og­ra­phy of the major schol­ar­ly works on the Holo­caust which Amis researched for his work of fiction.

Relat­ed content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions