The success continues for Steve Sem-Sandberg‘s powerfully gripping novel, The Chosen Ones. After receiving fantastic reviews from British critics the book is now getting fantastic prepub buzz in the US.
One distressed young face among many others, Adrian Ziegler joins the throng of children admitted to the impressive Am Spiegelgrund clinic in newly Nazified Vienna, a throng needing treatment for serious psychological and physical illnesses. But it is ominously irregular treatment that these young patients receive. In this intensively researched historical novel, readers follow Sem-Sandberg (and his adept translator) into a nightmarish Nazi inversion of medicine subjecting innocent children such as Adrian to inhuman experiments and—in hundreds of cases—to eugenically rationalized euthanasia. An open window allows Adrian to escape and survive, but readers see the horrid abuse and systematic liquidation of other Spiegelgrund patients judged a burden to the Master Race. But not all Spielgelgrund professionals act as Nazi ideologues. Complementing the narrative he develops from Adrian’s perspective, Sem-Sandberg unfolds a tangled second narrative from the viewpoint of Anna Katschenka, a devoted nurse shocked by the discovery that Spiegelgrund employees must execute designated patients. After Allied victory eventually shuts down Am Spiegelgrund, surviving former patients (such as Adrian) struggle with their emotional burdens, and former staff members (such as Anna) confront their guilt. And an entire nation fights the amnesia that would swallow the innocent dead. A harrowing chronicle.
Publishers Weekly added:
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 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.
And Kirkus talks about:
A horror novel, of a sort, in which Swedish novelist Sem-Sandberg (The Emperor of Lies, 2011) returns to the Holocaust to limn its essential inhumanity. Under orders from the newly imposed Nazi regime, doctors at an Austrian clinic are euthanizing the sick children under their care, using lethal injections to dispose of the innocent victims, but not without a few experiments in “encephelography” and “hereditary biology” along the way. Leading the charge is a sadistic doctor, Jekelius, whose only redeeming feature is that his successor is worse. With the doctor’s name, it may be that Sem-Sandberg means for us to think of Dr. Jekyll, but there is not much in the way of a countervailing good force to balance the monsters that stroll the halls of Am Spiegelgrund unhidden. At the center of the story is a young patient, Adrian Ziegler, who watches as, one by one, children disappear from their beds and whose faces he cannot recall: “When Ziegler is shown photographs of the boys, he recognizes most of them but can’t for the life of him work out where or when he has met them.” Occupying much of the story, though, is a figure for whom our empathy builds, only to be shattered, a nurse named Anna Katschenka, who is “efficient, unswervingly loyal and invariably sensible.” She bustles about the ward doing her job, the proverbial good Nazi who was only following orders. Anna at least has a sense of the moral disorder that surrounds her work, and though, years later, on trial for war crimes, she pleads that she is a “decent human being,” we understand that that is true only in a relative sense. There is much evil in the book, and much of it is banal indeed. Making every word count, Sem-Sandberg explores the psychologies of captive and captor, the complexities of bearing witness to things that most people would sooner forget. A memorable meditation on the human capacity to do ill—and to endure.