Germany, 1934. Rigmor, a young Jewish woman is a patient at Sonnenstein, a premier psychiatric institution known for their curative treatments. But with the tide of eugenics and the Nazis’ rise to power, Rigmor is swept up in a campaign to rid Germany of the mentally ill. USA, 1984. Sabine, battling crippling panic and depression commits herself to McLean Hospital, but in doing so she has unwittingly agreed to give up her baby. Linking these two generations of women is Inga, who did everything in her power to help her sister, Rigmor. Now with her granddaughter, Sabine, Inga is given a second chance to free someone she loves from oppressive forces, both within and without. This is a story about hope and redemption, about what we pass on, both genetically and culturally. It is about the high price of repression, and how one woman, who lost nearly everything, must be willing to reveal the failures of the past in order to save future generations. With chilling echoes of our time, Where Madness Lies is based on a true story of the author’s own family.
The treatment of those with mental health issues in Nazi Germany is something that isn’t written about as often as many of the other targeted groups, and it wasn’t something that I knew very much about, so I was intrigued by the premise of this book.
The dreadful treatment and murder of the mentally ill in Germany is told through the story of Rigmor, who is sent to Sorrenstein mental hospital by her family who hope to ease her struggles. What they don’t realise is that they are putting her in harm’s way.
We also meet Sabine, who, in the early 1980s, is suffering from depression after the birth of her baby, and who is helped by her grandmother, Inga, Rigmor’s sister.
The story begins quite slowly, and I wasn’t gripped at first, but then the pace picked up and what was happening became clearer, and from about a third of the way through, I couldn’t put the book down.
It is so well written, so heartfelt, and so brutally honest that at times you want to look away, but it is so important that these stories are remembered and told, and given the respect they deserve, even more so in this current climate when we seem to be blind to our past and slipping back into the prejudices and hatreds that were the root cause of the rise of fascism in the thirties. It is scary to think that we are following those same horrible paths, and books like these are so important in reminding us of exactly what we have to lose.