1930s / 1980s
Germany / USA Massachusetts
Sylvia True tackles a tough topic― mental illness and the madness of Nazi eugenics and racial cleansing―with compassion and skill.
We move between 1930s Germany and 1980s Massachusetts through the eyes of two central characters, Inga, and Sabine, her granddaughter.
In Frankfurt, 1934, Inga is a member of a wealthy Jewish family. Her beloved younger sister, Rigmor, suffers from deep depression and a range of increasingly challenging insecurities and mental confusion. Strong-minded Inga is determined to find a solution. Rigmor’s condition worsens and she’s finally admitted to an institution in the hopes of a cure. But some institutions were beginning at this time to adopt Hitler’s Final Solution in one form or another. In the case of mental illness, it was sterilisation or extermination.
Modern Sabine’s experience is very different. We meet her as she’s being admitted, reluctantly, to a mental institution a few months after having a baby. Although her symptoms are similar to Rigmor’s, she’s diagnosed as having depression with mild psychosis and treated in a very different way.
There’s plenty written about how the Jews and Gypsies were treated by the Nazis, but very little about what happened to those with mental conditions. Anyone considered to be feeble-minded, or with mental conditions causing confusion and instability, was also ‘guilty’ of diluting the pure Aryan race.
The author skilfully intertwines a number of themes. We experience horror, mystery, hidden secrets, love, and joy. At no time does it feel despairing or gloomy, despite the dreadful descriptions of Hitler’s ethnic cleansing ‘solutions.’
Despite its serious subject, this is a gripping tale and told with great sympathy.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Robyn Pearce