The Hidden Child

Written by Louise Fein
Review by Linda Harris Sittig

In Fein’s second novel, set in the rural English countryside in 1928, Eleanor Hamilton is happily married to her celebrated war hero husband, Edward; or so she thinks. Her husband is deeply involved with the newly popular Eugenics movement, which started in Germany but appeared in both Great Britain and the United States.

Loosely based upon Charles Darwin’s research of survival of the fittest, the Eugenics Movement seeks to sterilize anyone who is feeble-minded, criminally insane, mentally unstable, prone to epilepsy, or who has dwarfism. The theory behind the movement is that society will be better off if the “offensive people” are not allowed to sire offspring and thereby ensure that the human race will become an elite group.

And Eleanor backs Edward in his noble pursuit of bettering humanity until their four-year-old daughter, Mabel, has an epileptic seizure. Suddenly conflicted, Eleanor must face a choice between her love for her daughter and her commitment to her marriage. Told in stunning detail on how people with epilepsy were treated in Europe just before the rise of the Nazi Party, and laced with enough history to help the reader understand the political movements afoot, this novel moves forward with a plot that compels the reader to continue page after page.

Inspired by the author’s own family experience, the well-formed characters vividly illuminate the ethical issues of an era laced with prejudice and fear. The empathy the reader feels early on for Eleanor is gripping. Highly recommended.