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Martin Amis

Source: Philip Oltermann and Anne Penketh, The Guardian, August 28, 2014

In the UK, some critics have hailed it as the “best book in 25 years” by one of Britain’s greatest living writers. But The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis’s “brutish comedy” set in a fictionalised Auschwitz, may struggle to find readers overseas after the author confirmed on Thursday that both his German and French publishers had declined to publish the novel.

The book, which is narrated from the points of view of three concentration camp commanders and is interspersed with German vocabulary, was officially rejected by German publisher Hanser on the grounds that the manuscript wasn’t “sufficiently convincing”, Amis told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. But his interviewer, Thomas David, wrote that in German literary circles the widely shared view was that Amis’s book had been “too frivolous” for Hanser.

The reputable Munich-based publishing house had translated Amis’s past five books to appear in German. So far, no other publisher has bought the German-language rights for The Zone of Interest.

The French publisher Gallimard, which would not comment on Thursday, has previously published Amis’s novels. However, The Zone of Interest will be published in French in September next year by Calmann-Lévy, a publisher that rejected The Kindly Ones, a novel on the Holocaust by the American author Jonathan Littell. It was Gallimard which published that bestselling 1,408-page debut novel.

Deborah Kaufmann, Amis’s new editor with Calmann-Lévy, said that “if Gaillimard are kicking themselves for letting him go, that’s their problem”. She added: “And they already are.”

Calmann-Lévy had picked up the novel “because it’s a good book, and there’s nothing like it. And it’s not a comedy.” She said the publisher was “delighted to be starting a long relationship with Martin Amis, who is one of the top intellectual writers in Britain”.

In his interview, Amis stated he believed that his German publishers had rejected the book on literary merit, rather than because of an unease with the subject matter.

“Germany has reached a stage where younger people are eager to talk about the past, and the country has developed a sober perspective on that criminal period in its history. That’s why I was surprised when the publisher rejected the book,” the author said.

According to Amis, Hanser had “not understood” one of the key characters in the book, the SS officer Angelus “Golo” Thomsen. “The publisher seemed to think that Thomsen stood on the side of the regime and shared its ideology. But in actual fact, Thomsen knows that the national socialists’ ideology is counter-productive and self-destructive. He supports this self-destruction because he wants Germany to lose the war.”

He said that it was his understanding that Gallimard’s rejection was due to the publishing house taking a new editorial direction, rather than because of specific problems with the novel’s subject matter.

While Amis is seen by many in Britain as one of the most influential living writers in the English language, his commercial success and literary appreciation in Germany has never matched that of his contemporaries Ian McEwan or Julian Barnes.

While 1995’s The Information was a success, his other books have failed to generate similar enthusiasm amongst German readers. Money, published in 1984 and translated as Gierig, has been out of print since 1993.

Thomas David said he was puzzled by Hanser’s rejection, but didn’t think it had anything to do with heightened sensitivity about the subject matter. Only this week, he pointed out, the weekly Der Spiegel was carrying an Auschwitz cover story.

“It means that one of the best books by one of the most important writers of his generation doesn’t have a German publisher. But then again, Miley Cyrus is banned from performing in the Dominican Republic …”


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