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Amis Novel Slammed by Critics

16 September 2002

British publication of Martin Amis's new novel Koba the Dead has been marked by anger and derision from the British press, where historians have competed with more literary reviewers to express their loathing for the book and the author. The historian Orlando Figes, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, has a magisterial definition of the task of writing history: 'History is a debt the living repay to the dead. A good historian needs many qualities: imagination, judgment tempered by human empathy and understanding; perhaps a belief in the search for truth. But, above all, he needs humility. We don't write history to draw attention to ourselves.' He concludes 'The true subject of this book is not Stalin, nor even his victims, but Amis the would-be historian, Amis brooding on the suffering of the world from the safety of his home.'

Suzi Feay in the Independent on Sunday, approaches the novel from a literary reviewer's perspective and is even more condemnatory: 'This is a chilling book, because apparently without knowing it, Amis has revealed his own deformed personality. The proper response is not the anger displayed by so many critics. The only human response is to pity poor, preposterous Martin Amis, deluding himself that he - or his talentless father - have more merit than toilet cleaners like my granny, who read little but love more than he can ever know.'

Amis in his novel equates the horrors of Stalin's terror with the relatively mundane events of his own life, but he has also offended widely by treating history as fiction, or really perhaps just as an opportunity to muse on his own life. In an interview in the Observer he commented chillingly: 'when you're dealing merely with what actually happened it seems quite a lot of the job is done before you get there, you don't have to be dreaming it up. Writing Koba was a very happy writing experience.'