Germany, 1934. Rigmor, a young Jewish woman is a patient at Sonnenstein, a premier psychiatric institution known for their curative treatments. But with the tide of eugenics and the Nazis’ rise to power, Rigmor is swept up in a campaign to rid Germany of the mentally ill.

USA, 1984. Sabine, battling crippling panic and depression commits herself to McLean Hospital, but in doing so she has unwittingly agreed to give up her baby.

Linking these two generations of women is Inga, who did everything in her power to help her sister, Rigmor. Now with her granddaughter, Sabine, Inga is given a second chance to free someone she loves from oppressive forces, both within and without.

This is a story about hope and redemption, about what we pass on, both genetically and culturally. It is about the high price of repression, and how one woman, who lost nearly everything, must be willing to reveal the failures of the past in order to save future generations.

With chilling echoes of our time, Where Madness Lies is based on a true story of the author’s own family.

My review:

Where Madness Lies is a study of how mental illness and the stigma around the mentally ill affects a family. Inga loved her sister, Rigmor, and did what she thought was best for Rigmor. Unfortunately, there were few good options and many of Inga’s best intentions go awry. Inga recruits a young psychiatrist to help Rigmor with tragic results. With the Nazi program of sterilizing and eliminating the mentally ill looming, Inga is forced to make decisions that she will later regret. When her granddaughter, Sabine, checks herself into a psychiatric hospital, Inga gets another chance to care for her loved one, and hopefully, make better choices.

More than a story of what it is like to have a mental illness, this novel is the story of the people who love and care for mentally ill people. It is an insight into the powerlessness and confusion a family can experience as they try to navigate a world of experimental treatments and secretive institutions. By contrasting life in a psychiatric hospital in 1934 and in 1984, we see how treatments have improved, but many things have stayed the same. Families still confront the stigma of mental illness and have to deal with their own shame.

This is not a light read and it took some time to settle into the story, but I did enjoy learning what happened to the Blumenthal family and how they coped with the mentally ill women in each generation.

Thanks to NetGalley and John Hunt Publishing for a review copy of the novel.

My rating – 3.5 Stars