My rating: 4 stars
Full of impactful moments of dark humour, Sulphuric Acid by Amélie Nothomb is a satire on reality TV which questions why people choose to watch it even when it involves nothing but suffering. It highlights how easily viewers forget that the people whom they are watching are fellow human beings and emphasises the importance of holding on to what makes us an individual person, such as our names.
Another reality-TV show was about to begin. It would have been just more of the same had it not been set in a death camp and called Concentration (the Nazi imagery is prevalent throughout the book). Anyone could be a participant, or more precisely a prisoner. People, young and old, were picked at random on the streets and then piled into a cattle-truck. Pannonique was “selected” while strolling around the Jardin des Plantes.
More care was taken when choosing the guards. Zdena, who was given the post of Kapo, had to fill in a questionnaire and prove that she could beat and insult people. None of the principles of the show shocked her. While at the camp, she developed an obsession with Pannonique. She beat her regularly and wanted to know her real name, since prisoners at the camp were only known by numbers and letters. Pannonique, who soon became a star thanks to her beauty and the assured way in which she behaved, was the prisoner CKZ 114.
This is an introspective novella, despite not being significantly character-focused. The characters assess their lives and what they are lacking, but there aren’t many details about their actions and personalities. They are used to make readers question and muse about how societies operate.
“It was astonishing: there were many more empty people than full people. Why?”
Sulphuric Acid offers more questions than answers and there resides the power of this little book.