New Zealander Catherine Chidgey opens a new chapter of Holocaust literature as she tells the story of Greta Hahn, who is the wife of a concentration camp manager and doesn’t know – then doesn’t want to know – what goes on behind the fence. When her Nazi husband becomes convinced that only a prisoner can save Greta from dying of cancer, Dr. Weber enters her parallel universe at the edge of the camp. The prisoner-doctor treats Greta because he hopes it will help his Jewish wife and their young daughter who have been forcibly separated from him and sent further East. Slowly he bursts Greta’s bubble of oblivion and she is forced to confront the horror to which she has been an accomplice. Chidgey expertly choreographs this desperate dance of death as the Allied liberating army comes closer and closer, and surviving long enough to be freed becomes the ultimate challenge. Remote Sympathy, harrowing but ultimately hopeful, is a passionate warning against the dangers of our wilful ignorance in the face of oppression which is, sadly, of urgent relevance today, and every day.
Moving away from their lovely apartment in 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. Frau Hahn and the other officers’ wives living in this small community can order anything they desire, whether new curtains made from the finest French fabrics, or furniture designed to the most exacting specifications.
Lying just beyond the forest that surrounds them—so close and yet so remote—is the looming presence of a work camp. Frau Hahn’s husband, SS Sturmbannführer Dietrich Hahn, is to take up a powerful new position as the camp’s administrator. As the prison population begins to rise, the job becomes ever more consuming. Corruption is rife at every level, the supplies are inadequate, and the sewerage system is under increasing strain…
When Frau Hahn is forced into an unlikely and poignant alliance with one of Buchenwald’s prisoners, Dr. Lenard Weber, her naïve ignorance about what is going on so nearby is challenged. A decade earlier, Dr. Weber had invented a machine: the Sympathetic Vitaliser. At the time he believed that its subtle resonances might cure cancer. But does it really work? One way or another, it might yet save a life.
About the Author/Translator
Catherine Chidgey is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer. Her first novel, In a Fishbone Church, won the Betty Trask Award. Golden Deed was Time Out’s book of the year, a Best Book in the LA TimesBook Review and a Notable Book in the New York Times Book Review. TheWish Child won the 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize.
Beautifully written, immersive, compelling, profound literature. Dunedin Public Libraries, New Zealand
“Set in Nazi Germany in the prison labour camp of Buchenwald and the neighbouring town of Weimar, Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey is an absorbing and skillfully told cautionary tale of the dangers of detachment and ‘othering’, and the tragic endgame of willful obliviousness. Chidgey’s evocative writing and extensive research is shown off to stunning effect in a multi-voice narrative that seamlessly blends fact and fiction. This nuanced and compulsively readable account of life in and around the camp is told by a host of German voices, showing the layers of complicity and culpability lying behind the stories, secrets, truths and lies each narrator chooses to share with the reader. Providing a fresh and vital viewpoint on what some readers may now consider familiar literary territory, Chidgey writes “…on the backs of all the vanished years” with a deep understanding and respect for the complexities of her chosen subject. Remote Sympathy builds a convincing case for the need to continue looking at the past with new eyes, particularly within the context of contemporary geopolitical divisiveness and online echo chambers of conjecture and fake news. Auckland Libraries, New Zealand