Jonathan Cape has acquired an "extraordinary" non-fiction title made possible after Nazi documents 70 years old were discovered hidden in an armchair.
Bea Hemming, deputy publishing director of Jonathan Cape, struck a deal for World rights (excluding North America) for the book, authored by historian Daniel Lee, from Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge and White, to publish in autumn 2018. Dutch rights were pre-empted within 24 hours by Unieboek/Het Spectrum, closely followed by a "significant" German sale with DTV.
The SS Officer’s Armchair is described as an "enthralling historical detective story" weaving historical detection with biography to trace the life of an unknown Nazi officer whose personal wartime papers were recently found inside the cushion of an armchair in Amsterdam. The mystery of the hidden documents sets historian Lee on a global trail in pursuit of the life of Dr Robert Griesinger, a lawyer and civil servant from Stuttgart, who was killed in Prague at the end of the war. Through the discovery of the papers, Lee is able to provide a rare window on occupation from the point of view of the occupying forces, but is also forced to confront unforeseen connections with the murder of his own relatives in the Holocaust.
Lee is a historian of the Second World War and a vice-chancellor’s fellow in the History Department at the University of Sheffield. His first book, Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940–1942, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. As a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, he is also a regular broadcaster on radio.
Lee said: "The SS Officer’s Armchair starts and ends with the origins of a few documents hidden in a cushion, but in between it reveals a series of unexpected twists and turns that force us to look at actors during the Third Reich in a new light. It is the sort of book every historian dreams of writing not just in terms of solving a mystery, but because of some of the larger questions it raises about individual culpability, ownership and responsibility. It is an immense privilege that this story will find a home at Jonathan Cape, where I look forward to working with Bea Hemming and the team."
Hemming said: "The SS Officer’s Armchair is an extraordinary story in its own right. But what I most loved about the book are the questions it raises about memory, identity, and the nature of historical research. Griesinger stands in for countless nameless followers of Hitler, and the armchair in which his most precious papers were found reminds us of the countless lives and secrets that will always remain hidden. In Daniel Lee the book also announces the arrival of a major new talent in history writing. I’m thrilled that he is joining the Cape list."