In Sem-Sandberg’s previous novel, The Emperor of Lies, the Swedish writer took as his subject the Łódz´ ghetto in Poland during WWII. In his latest, he revisits the savagery of that war by focusing on Am Spiegelgrund, a real-life Viennese clinic where children “diagnosed with mental illness, mental retardation, or severe malformations” were the victims of Nazi eugenics and euthanasia programs. Epic in scope, the novel follows Adrian Ziegler a “patient” of the institution, as he lives there off and on from January 1941 to May 1944, and Anna Katschenka, a nurse who works in the clinic from 1941 until the Russians reach the city at the war’s end. Adrian, thought to be of inferior racial stock, with a “Gypsy-type” skull and ears that exhibit a “Semitic curvature,” undergoes the brutal torment and abuse the staff inflict on their charges. He suffers endless cruelty and sexual abuse and bears witness to the murders committed within the clinic’s walls. Anna is a loyal disciple of Dr. Jekelius, the medical director, who unquestioningly becomes party to the Nazis’ state-sanctioned policy of euthanasia, which is, as the doctor tells her, “acts of mercy in the spirit that has always guided medical science, that is to ameliorate or remove sources of pain and suffering.” The novel’s horror is not merely that the crimes it relates are true but the way the most unspeakable atrocities can be committed by the state under the guise of science. With a gift for finding humanity in even the darkest of stories, Sem-Sanberg has written an indelible, moving novel. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/27/2016 Release date: 08/02/2016 Genre: Fiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.