Germany in the 1930s was a dangerous time. Life as most Germans knew it was coming to an end; old allegiances were breaking and new and terrifying ideas were slowly taking hold. The Nazis were gaining power and Jewish lives, the lives of the mentally challenged, those who were not the “perfect” human example were secretly exterminated for the “good of the people.”
WHERE MADNESS LIES is a story based on the author’s family history. Inga, the daughter of influential Jewish parents, seeks help for her sister, Rigmor, who suffers depression and anxiety. It’s a story of how little was known about mental illness, how women, especially, were treated in the medical field, and how Inga’s decisions affected a number of people for the rest of their lives.
While the majority of the story takes place in 1930s Germany, there are chapters that jump forward to 1984 in the United States. Not only do we see Inga as a young woman, but also as a grandmother who fights the memories of Nazi Germany. Her granddaughter, Sabine, shows signs of the same depression and anxiety Rigmor suffered. Inga wants to help, but in order to do so, she must come to terms with her past choices.
This is a fictional story based on real-life events and it’s important that it serves as a record of atrocities committed by the Nazi Regime. We should never forget. It’s also a statement on how the treatment of mental illness has developed, and how much farther the medical community and society as a whole have to go to de-stigmatize those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and the like.
The women in this story are all reflections of their time and circumstances. Rigmor is a strong character even though her symptoms are debilitating. What’s remarkable is the way even her family disregards her voice. It drove me a little nuts. She tells them multiple times what she needs and wants, but her mother and Inga think they know better. Inga fluctuates from progressive, educated, sexually-aware to emotionally disconnected and reliant on the men around her. Her meddling and need to be in control of not just her life, but those around her have disastrous affects. Sabine pushes Inga’s boundaries forcing Inga to revisit what she’s hid away. Frieda, Rigmor and Inga’s mother, was the most sympathetic character to me. She has limited information and depends on Inga to make decisions, which strains their relationship. In the end, she loses the most.
The writing is good. True’s writing is intelligent and she has done a good job of allowing the reader to travel smoothly from one perspective to another. Sabine’s story mirrors that of Inga and Rigmor without being overdone. I do have a problem with the male character Tanner. I’m not sure if he was supposed to be a male version of Inga’s sexual awareness in another time or be the challenge Sabine is to overcome in order to find herself. I did find Inga to be contradictory at times, but people are like that, right?
Overall, this is a story about living with your decisions and when presented with the opportunity, to atone for perceived mistakes. It’s about discovering what a life worth living means for an individual, how history affects the present, and the infectious spread of secrets.