By Cyndi Hughes, via Charles Ealy
Slate’s review of Martin Amis’ new novel, “The Zone of Interest,” starts: “Every review of a new book by Martin Amis must, in some way, be a review of Martin Amis — a reflection on the State of Amis.” Amis himself delivered a brief master course on the State of Amis in his Saturday session in the House Chamber during the Texas Book Festival.
He started by observing, “It’s nice to be here –– It’s always an adventure to be in Texas.” Then he turned to the matter at hand, puzzling out the Holocaust through “The Zone of Interest.” In the end, Amis said, “The whole project of the Holocaust makes no sense on any level. It really is the most anomalous stretch of events.”
Even though Hitler is only peripherally mentioned in the novel, he looms large. “Hitler is sort of a singularity. … I’m not trying to be frivolous or simplistic about it, but part of it is that he’s a void sexually. When a character arrives on center stage in one of my novels, I always know about their sexuality. There is no evidence either way” about Hitler. Amis went on to enumerate the three schools about Hitler’s sexuality: normality, asexuality and perversion.
At that point, moderator Greg Cowles of The New York Times Book Review commented, “This is far afield from what I had in mind, but keep going.”
So Amis obliged. “What I can’t accept is normality. Can you image Eva Braun having a cigarette while Hitler towels himself down?”
Then he returned to the Holocaust itself. “I don’t think they were constantly aware of this massive crime they were committing. They were fulfilling quotas, and this was going on in the background. … You can’t justify the Holocaust. The German nation in 1933 was the most advanced educationally that had ever been. And this is what came out of that.”
As for the forced complicity of Jewish prisoners like “The Zone of Interest’s” Szmul, who cooperated with his captors by processing corpses to stay alive, he said, “They worked out a patina of deception, welcoming the evacuees and saying ‘You’ll begin with a light disinfection then you’d be transferred to the guest house.’ The real mystery is that the evacuees went like lambs to the slaughterhouse, then they put on the rubber gloves and walked away.”
Yet, they would occasionally save a life. Szmul, for instance, tells a couple to hand their baby to the grandmother, which means that the husband and wife would survive, since the Nazis were killing anyone with a child.
When Cowles asked about the comedic label being applied to the novel, Amis said, “I object to the word ‘comedy’; satire is what it is. It’s a protean response, laughter. The laughter, to the extent that there’s any in this book, is bitter.
“I wanted to bring everything I’ve got to this subject. I can’t switch off that part of me. I dread becoming sepulchural and hushed. … You have to find some sort of distance from it, and a satirical viewpoint helps you with that distance.
For the Slate review, go here.