Remote Sympathy

Written by Catherine Chidgey
Review by Anne Leighton

Germany, 1943. Hitler’s racial laws are fully enforced. Lenard Weber is a physician married to a Jewish wife, Anna, and they have a daughter named Lotte. Marriage to a non-Aryan results in the loss of his hospital job and deportation to a concentration camp along with his wife and daughter. For 10 years Weber worked on a machine—a “Sympathetic Vitaliser”—that might cure cancer. When Weber is deported to Buchenwald, he meets Nazi administrator Dietrich Hahn and his wife, Greta. Tensions rise when Greta develops ovarian cancer. Hahn enlists Weber to treat Greta with his visualizer. Making a devil’s bargain, Weber agrees knowing there’s no guarantee that he can help Greta, but he hopes to use this arrangement to discover the fate of his wife and daughter. As Greta’s condition worsens, she and Weber develop a friendship. This poignant friendship becomes a race against time. With Germany losing the war, will they both survive? Will Hahn adhere to his side of the bargain?

Despite being on the long side, this book is a quick read. Chidgey divides the book into separate “novellas” where each principal character speaks eloquently. This approach creates multi-dimensional characters rather than stock figures. Filled with inherent drama—survival amid war and imprisonment—Remote Sympathy is an engrossing tale. It is first and foremost a story of hope, friendship, and endurance. I highly recommend this book as an insightful account of human nature set against the chaos of war. It is a moving examination of the human condition and well worth serious attention.