Five years ago Steve Sem-Sandberg won the prestigious August Prize for his novel The Emperor of Lies. Although the author had long been one of the pillars of the Swedish literary scene this catapulted him into national and international fame. As The Emperor of Lies went on to be published in over to 25 territories Steve started writing on a new novel that would see the light of day in 2014 and subsequently be nominated for The August Prize, a testament to the novels great worth and the authors amazing literary prowess.
The Chosen Ones is an exquisitely written novel that spans over 70 years. Taking place mostly in the large mental clinic of Steinhof, in Vienna, and focusing on the dozen odd pavilions comprising the children’s ward that came to be known as Spiegelgrund. During the Second World War this particular part of the hospital was transformed into a special psychiatric ward for children and youths with, so called, “disciplinary problems”. Spiegelgrund was very much like a world in itself with rules and hierarchies mirroring those of the world outside. The children with the most severe injuries and illnesses were usually shipped down to the “killing ward” that occupied pavilions 15 & 17.
A myriad of voices and a rich, yet grim, character gallery will take us on a journey into, what can still be considered, Europe’s blackest times. But in his novel about this micro cosmos in Nazi Europe, Steve Sem-Sandberg focuses mainly on two different characters. One is inmate Adrian Ziegler and the other is Anna Katschenka, a nurse at the clinic. Both of them irreparably damaged by the horrible circumstances but each in their own way. Through the eyes of these two characters and their supporting cast the author shows us the true meaning of evil’s dichotomy. We are ruthlessly exposed to a time where racial purity was thought to be the key to a functional society as our humanity was carelessly set aside in the ruthless quest for unobtainable ideals.
The Chosen Ones is a new chapter in Steve Sem-Sandberg’s on-going novel about Europe during the Second World War. Although, the novel is based on a foundation of facts, it is not meant to be read as a historical record nor a documentary of the times, but as a novel about actual lives being lived.