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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Where Madness Lies

Where Madness Lies Sylvia True

ISBN: 178904460X

Publisher: Top Hat

Publication Date: 02/01/21

Format: Paperback

My Rating: 5 Stars

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.



"A masterful novel. Where Madness Lies unfolds against the backdrop of the Holocaust and seamlessly reflects back to us our own perilous times… told it with utter insight and beauty." —Annie Weatherwax, author of All We Had, now a major motion picture.

'…an intimate page-turner that is full of heart. This brave novel explores a little-known and horrifying footnote of the Holocaust, as well as longtime patriarchal tendencies to use women's mental health against them, especially as a means of gaining power and control. Engrossing and devastating, Where Madness Lies reminds us of how much is at stake today, as democracy is threatened and fascism looms large.'

— Heidi Pitlor, Author of The Daylight Marriage and Impersonation

'Absorbing and intelligent, Where Madness Lies is a brave and uplifting reflection on an ever-sensitive subject. With deftly-rendered characters, True illustrates just how strong the connections are between past and present.'

—Maryanne O’Hara, Author of Cascade

'Sylvia True's novel is a voyage into the madness of madness, tracing the Nazis' seduction of Germany into the moral catastrophe of racial hygiene. The narrative is written in the voices of two women you can't stop caring about. True tells a story of urgent and deeply consequential familial love across three generations.'

— Alex Rosenberg, Author of The Girl from Krakow


My Review

Sylvia True returns following The Wednesday Group (2016) with a stunning and emotionally charged multi-generational historical/psychological fiction, WHERE MADNESS LIES. Eye-opening and heartbreaking real truths about mental illness.

The author expertly intertwines history and matters of the heart.

Based on the author's family and inspired by real events, the writing is lyrical and beautifully rendered; I found this to be one of the top historical fiction books of 2021! I could not put it down, and these characters will haunt you long after the book ends. It will chill you to the bones.

WHERE MADNESS LIES alternates between the 1980s's Massachusetts and 1930's Germany. From injustice, mental illness, the powerful, eugenics, and cruelty of human lives.

Two women, both stories equally as compelling across generations.

My top historical books of 2021 are The Four Winds (Kristin Hannah), Surviving Savannah (Patti Callahan) and Where Madness Lies (Sylvia True).

These "feebleminded" persons were misunderstood, improperly diagnosed, and the solution was to put them away. However, families' good intentions are not always the best when the people and government behind the institutions are filled with greed, evil, and hatred, and a lack of concern for human lives behind these walls. So what is the right thing to do. If you have money, as in this case you can hire specialized care; however, often times that is short lived.

We meet Sabine (1984), married with a young baby daughter. She has been kept in the dark about her family history and of mental illness. She has been experiencing some post-partum depression and wants help. She is only twenty-six. When she agrees to be treated, she is not told in advance, she cannot keep her baby with her. It was supposed to be three business days.

We then meet Inga (Arlesheim, Switzerland 1984). Forty-nine years earlier, she and her mother left Germany. Rigmor was her sister. She suffered from mental illness, and Inga feels somewhat responsible for her death since she encouraged her to be admitted to an asylum, McLean. Things did not go as planned.

Rigmor was well-read and talented in music and art. She was intimidated by their mother and did not want to make waves. Unlike her strong sister, Inga, she was bred to be an aristocrat, a hostess, and a good wife; she could do all things though none of them interested her.

We later meet Arnold (loved him), a psychiatrist and a man of science whom the family knew and asked him to help take care of Rigmor. His story will break your heart as well. They became friends. The doctors thought Rigmor had a touch of hysteria. So how do you go from this to an unsafe eugenic sterilization?

She was treated at home, and the family did not want her to be institutionalized or sterilized. Which was what happened to those with mental illness.

Alternating between Germany 1934, we go back to the lives of the sisters and their dominating mother. By the end of the book, we are back in Switzerland 1985, where three generations finally meet.

What tragedy and loss. When the past meets the present and secrets of the past are unfolded, and truths come to light. Sabrina learns to care for those around her, and she soon knows as long as she has her daughter and new friends, she is not fond of going back home to her husband and former life.

It is heartbreaking to think about mentally ill patients sent by transport to euthanasia stations. How the Jews were treated, and the horrible Nazis. The mentally ill placed in chambers with carbon monoxide thinking they were taking a shower. They were murdered. Physicians looked the other way and lied to the families.

This is a gripping story about loss, hope, and redemption, and parallels with our world today. What I loved about this story is the way it was told so as to hear from the members of the family and their need to protect. I cared about the characters and they jumped off the page.

A perfect title. Thank you, Sylvia for writing this close to your heart story about the shameful secrets that cross three generations of a once-proud aristocratic family.

Written with compassion, emotion, and heart, I think this author has found her calling, and I hope we see more historical fiction from her soon. A compelling story about the horrors of our past generations: sadly, today, our world has not learned from past mistakes.

For fans of Diane Chamberlain's Necessary Lies- Even though set in the south in the 1960s, you will see some similarities in some power, eugenics and sterilization and those who cross moral lines to help those who cannot help themselves.

Highly recommend! Top Books of 2021.

PS: You have been missed, Sylvia, and glad you are back! You were born to tell this story.

Read my Review: The Wednesday Group (below)

Top Books of 2016.


About the Author

Sylvia True is the author of The Wednesday Group and Where Madness Lies. Where Madness Lies, Sylvia True’s second novel, 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, this novel is based on a true story of the author’s own family.

Sylvia was born in England to parents who were refugees from Germany. She moved to the US when she was five. Growing up with parents from a different culture, a mother who was a Swiss champion figure skater, and a father who was a theoretical nuclear physicist, gave her varied and unique perspectives.

Sylvia is a high school chemistry teacher and head of the Science and Technology Department at Holliston High School. During her summer breaks, she likes to travel to the Amazon and do research in the rainforest.

She has raised two daughters, who are both pursuing their passions. If Sylvia had to sum up who she is in a word, she would say learner. There is so much in this world that she is deeply interested in—science, the paranormal, writing, teaching, and of course her grandchildren.

Presently, she lives in Massachusetts with her two very spoiled dogs. Please feel free to contact her and ask her any questions. She looks forward to responses to both of her novels. Read More


The Wednesday Group

Sylvia True


“Sylvia True portrays with honesty and skill the emotional heartbreak and inner strength four women. A riveting debut!” ―Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Girls






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