Shortlisted for the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
An exquisitely readable, polyphonic novel of domestic drama and human connection set in and around a concentration camp in Germany during the second world war and its aftermath.
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 silks, or furniture designed to the most exacting specifications. Life here in Buchenwald would appear to be idyllic.
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 Sturmbannfuhrer 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 naive 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.
A tour de force about the evils of obliviousness, Remote Sympathy compels us to question our continuing and willful ability to look the other way in a world that is once more in thrall to the idea that everything-even facts, truth and morals-is relative. A novel of devastating beauty that will leave readers shaken and exhilarated.