Written by: Catherine Chidgey
Victoria University Press
Reviewed by: Kerry Lee
Set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany during World War II, Remote Sympathy is about three people trying to survive in a world that’s seemingly gone mad.
We first meet the happy couple of Dr Lenard Weber and his young wife Anne, who have a daughter, Lotte. Lenard’s a dreamer and invents the machine he dubs the ‘Sympathetic vitalizer’, something he hopes will someday change the world.
We’re then introduced to SS Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Dietrich Hahn, the new administrator of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and his wife, Greta.
When tragedy strikes and Greta develops cancer, Dietrich, desperate to save her, has Weber transferred to Buchenwald as a political prisoner so that he can begin treating her with what later becomes known as his ‘miracle machine’.
Chidgey’s writing is top-notch stuff, and the characters are extraordinarily well written. None of them are truly what I’d label a classical hero or villain; instead, they’re what I’d like to call ‘realistically nuanced’. Each one occupies a grey area, not truly good nor evil. No one’s 100 percent innocent, but I think that’s the point Chidgey’s trying to make. Even the best of us can bend our moral compasses when it comes to protecting the people we love.
The only sticking point was when the perspective switched to the people of a nearby town and how they were able to justify a concentration camp essentially in their backyards. I understand what Chidgey was going for, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested in them as I was in the three main characters, and they only served to distract me from the book’s main story. For me, it came across as filler, and while I’m no expert, I really feel like the narrative could have benefited from their exclusion altogether.
However, it’s only a minor sticking point and shouldn’t prevent anyone from picking this up the next time they find themselves browsing for their next great read. Lest we forget.