Book Reviews, Books, writing

Book Review : Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey

Title : Remote Sympathy
Author : Catherine Chidgey
Publisher : Europa Editions
Pages : 526
Genre : Historical Fiction

Story :

Moving away from Munich isn’t nearly as wrenching an experience for Frau Greta Hahn as she had feared. Their new home is even lovelier than the one they left behind, and best of all – right on their doorstep – are some of the finest craftsmen from all over Europe, prepared to make for her and the other officers’ wives living in this small community anything they could possibly desire: new curtains from the finest silks, furniture designed to the most exacting specifications, execute a fresco or a mural even.

The looming presence of the nearby prison camp – lying just beyond a patch of forest – is the only blot to mar what is otherwise an idyllic life in Buchenwald.

Frau Hahn’s husband, SS Sturmbannführer Dietrich Hahn, has taken up a powerful new position as camp administrator. The job is all consuming as he wrestles with corruption that is rife at every level, inadequate supplies, and a sewerage system under ever-growing strain as the prison population continues to rise.

Frau Hahn’s obliviousness is challenged when she is forced into an unlikely alliance with one of Buchenwald’s prisoners, Dr Lenard Weber. A decade earlier he invented a machine – the Sympathetic Vitaliser – that at the time he believed could cure cancer. Does the machine work? Whether it does or not, it might yet save a life.

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Review :

I haven’t read many books on holocaust and concentration camps. Probably just The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas. While that book was heart-wrenching, this one felt like a non-fiction. And to a certain extent, I believe it is.

Remote Sympathy is not a story. It’s a saga, an era, a directory of the past. Through four different narratives, we get multiple perspectives and a bird’s eye view of the atrocities of Weimer, Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp.

To be perfectly honest, it was a difficult read at times. Too much pain, too much distress, but the truth needs to be told. The vivid descriptions of the insides of the camp was extremely uncanny and nightmarish to picture. Can’t imagine what the ‘prisoners’ had to go through and deal with. Such unimaginable agony, pain and trauma has been brought to life with words on paper and the author did not pull any punches.

I can’t think of a way to ever say goodbye to this book because it’s going to haunt my mind forever. It’s a horror that has happened in reality and I guess that is the hardest part. Very well deserved to be longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year.
I don’t think this book is for everyone. Definitely not for the faint heart, so make sure to check out all the triggers before picking this one up.

Trigger Warnings>>>> Cancer, Trauma, Torture, Death


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