Detailing a six-hour window on April 21, 1941, The Bus (Quattro Books, 2016) features eight different narrators: six mental patients, the doctor who will kill them, and the man who will burn their corpses. Crammed into a bus with thirty-five others and unable to see out the painted windows, the patients are transferred from the Scheuern institution to the Nazi euthanasia clinic in Hadamar, Germany. (From Quattro Book’s website)
The Third Reich had a policy of mercy killing those deemed “incurables” such as the mental patients Nadja, Frederich, Sebastian, Leopold, Emmerich and Judith, all passengers unknowingly on their way to be gassed in a “shower room”, then cremated. The other two narrators are Michael the doctor and Ewald, the crematorium attendant.
The Bus was awarded the 2016 Ken Klonsky Novella award and with good reason. Mr Pottle has captured the individual torments of each character so impressively that, within a mere 150 pages, they are all quite distinct and we have come not only to understand their mental state but sympathise with them. Michael laments that instead of killing these patients, they could be studied, observed in the name of medical science. This is not why he became a doctor for the Reich. Deftly captured too is the overwhelming claustrophobic environment of the bus itself: windows all painted over, no washroom facilities, no food or water for the patients and the smells begin to mount, layer upon layer of sweat, urine, even the pools of blood from a patient who accidentally dies on the trip, the guards refusing to remove his corpse. Sebastian complains to one of the nurses on board the bus:
“We’re not prisoners. You can’t treat us like this. This bus is an abomination. We haven’t been given water or food. We can hardly breathe in here. It’s like a coffin.”
Stark, shocking and succinctly written, The Bus will leave you questioning once again man’s incomprehensible inhumanity to man.