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06May

Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey review – bearing witness to the Holocaust

As the lives of a physician, an SS officer and his wife intersect at Buchenwald, so too do their lies and self-deceits, in this lucid and careful novel

The Holocaust novel is a relatively recent phenomenon. For decades, fiction maintained a respectful silence, deferring to the testimony of survivors. Even those survivors tended towards circumspection, with Primo Levi warning that such memoirs as his own should be read “with a critical eye”; that the Holocaust could not be wholly apprehended even by those who had endured it.

The present generation of novelists has proved less reticent and, in many cases, less punctilious. If bestselling fiction can, God help us, “raise awareness”, it can just as easily numb the senses. In a spate of popular titles, Auschwitz has been made the site of cosily redemptive parables, the historical frame cropped to Instagram dimensions.

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