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Freud's Sister: A Novel [Paperback]

Goce Smilevski , Christina E. Kramer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 28 2012
The award-winning international sensation that poses the question: Was Sigmund Freud responsible for the death of his sister in a Nazi concentration camp?

The boy in her memories who strokes her with the apple, who whispers to her the fairy tale, who gives her the knife, is her brother Sigmund.

Vienna, 1938: With the Nazis closing in, Sigmund Freud is granted an exit visa and allowed to list the names of people to take with him. He lists his doctor and maids, his dog, and his wife's sister, but not any of his own sisters. The four Freud sisters are shuttled to the Terezín concentration camp, while their brother lives out his last days in London.

Based on a true story, this searing novel gives haunting voice to Freud's sister Adolfina—“the sweetest and best of my sisters”—a gifted, sensitive woman who was spurned by her mother and never married. A witness to her brother's genius and to the cultural and artistic splendor of Vienna in the early twentieth century, she aspired to a life few women of her time could attain.

From Adolfina's closeness with her brother in childhood, to her love for a fellow student, to her time with Gustav Klimt's sister in a Vienna psychiatric hospital, to her dream of one day living in Venice and having a family, Freud's Sister imagines with astonishing insight and deep feeling the life of a woman lost to the shadows of history.


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Review

“Stunning . . . Bold and unexpected . . . It dares to provide a kind of shadow biography of Freud that is highly critical of the ‘great man.’ . . . Sure to be provocative.” —Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

“A pleasure to read. There is great depth in this novel, and its poetic prose shines through even in this English translation.” —Associated Press

Freud’s Sister is that rare artistic achievement that is more than the sum of its parts—informative but also wise, insightful and deeply moving. . . . Like Tolstoy, Smilevski chooses to use simple words, but to connect them eloquently so that they build to create powerful and complex images, ideas and feelings. . . . [A] heart-breaking book.” —The Jewish Daily Forward

"Startling and daring... A book that is ultimately less a Holocaust novel than a celebration of the subtlety and complexity of what comprises every human life... [Adolfina] is figted with acute preception, deep insight and a grand eloquence, all of which is on rich display through this remarkable book." —The Jewish Journal

“A beautiful, sensitive . . . literary investigation into what it must be like to live one’s life in the shadow of a genius.” —Maclean’s

“One of the most interesting literary events of the year . . . Important . . . easy to read, interesting and profound . . . [Smilevski] is an excellent writer.” —Dubravka Ugresic, Liberation (France)

“A deep, intelligent, boldly imaginative work, Freud’s Sister demonstrates how fiction can raise certain essential questions that history cannot or does not dare to raise.” Alberto Manguel, El País (Spain)

“I’ve been deeply moved. . . . It’s very difficult to forget and is very likely to be as controversial as it is acclaimed.” —Joyce Carol Oates, Elle (Spain)

“Smilevski takes his place alongside Freud in the pantheon of philosophical writers whose mind and heart probe as one.” —The Daily Beast

“A brooding, sepulchral book [that] effectively contrasts the roots of [Adolfina Freud’s and Klara Klimt’s] suffering with Freud’s more notorious theories.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Hauntingly beautiful . . . Achingly elegant . . . This is a novel that deserves to belong to world literature.” —Judges’ citation, Modern Language Association Lois Roth Award (honorable mention)

“This gem of a book . . . is deeply moving. . . . A provocative discourse on sanity and perception . . . Unforgettable.” —Publishers Weekly

“Superb . . . Provocative and poignant . . . A sensitive portrayal and a well-crafted novel [that] offers keen insight into the Freud family dynamics.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Rich, varied, and complex . . . A novel of high intellect, enthusiastically recommended . . . The author brings Freud to life in his penetrating depiction of family relationships set against the backdrop of social and historical changes sweeping Europe at the time.” —Library Journal

“Memorable . . . Provocative . . . An unflinching gaze at love, death, sex, hatred, depression, and madness.” —Booklist

“A vivid, bracing work of fiction—one of those rare novels that does more than simply bring history to life. It gives life to facts, and shimmers with a kind of actual reality that seems truer than life itself.” —Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of H.M.

“Beautifully moving, rich in ideas and emotion, and full of insights about family, madness, and the role of women in fin-de-siècle Europe. Smilevski writes like a shaman wrestling the truth from a demon, and the message he delivers is transformational, relentless, and heartbreaking.” —Dale Peck

“Ingenious, innovative, and insightful in narrating one against the other the intertwined biographies of Freud and his sister Adolfina, and of their contemporaries Gustav Klimt and his sister Klara, and in thereby illuminating the historical relationship between creation and unthinkable destruction, as well as between male and female destinies. A thought-provoking, vitally engaging reading experience for anyone who cares about the meaning of our world.” —Shoshana Felman, author of Writing and Madness, Testimony, and The Juridical Unconscious

“A brilliantly written portrait of a woman cursed by her family, her culture, her country, and of her attempts to transcend the burden of history.” —Louise Murphy, author of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

“An excellent novel . . . I cannot remember any book bringing me as much pleasure as [this one].” —Vesna Mojsova-Cepisevska (Macedonia)

“Wise and moving.” —Knack (Belgium)

“Smilevski has a distinctive style [and] gives a beautiful glimpse into both inner life and the world of ideas.” —Boek (The Netherlands)

“Strong, multi-layered, obsessive [like] José Saramago.” —La Repubblica (Italy)

“Powerful . . . a discovery.” —RaiNews (Italy), No. 1 Book of the Year

 

About the Author

Goce Smilevski was born in 1975 in Skopje, Macedonia. He was educated at Charles University in Prague, Central European University in Budapest, and Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, where he works at the Institute for Literature. He has won numerous prizes for his writing, in Macedonia and abroad; Freud's Sister won the European Union Prize for Literature and is being published in more than twenty-five languages. Reviewing his work in The Forward, Joshua Cohen wrote, “A young heir to Günter Grass and José Saramago, Goce Smilevski might be the newest of a rare thing—a living European novelist with a message for the future of his continent.”


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly Moving and Intense Sept. 13 2012
By Great Historicals TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The award-winning international sensation that poses the question: Was Sigmund Freud responsible for the death of his sister in a Nazi concentration camp?

The boy in her memories who strokes her with the apple, who whispers to her the fairy tale, who gives her the knife, is her brother Sigmund.

Vienna, 1938: With the Nazis closing in, Sigmund Freud is granted an exit visa and allowed to list the names of people to take with him. He lists his doctor and maids, his dog, and his wife's sister, but not any of his own sisters. The four Freud sisters are shuttled to the Terezín concentration camp, while their brother lives out his last days in London.

Based on a true story, this searing novel gives haunting voice to Freud's sister Adolfina—“the sweetest and best of my sisters”—a gifted, sensitive woman who was spurned by her mother and never married. A witness to her brother's genius and to the cultural and artistic splendor of Vienna in the early twentieth century, she aspired to a life few women of her time could attain.

From Adolfina's closeness with her brother in childhood, to her love for a fellow student, to her time with Gustav Klimt's sister in a Vienna psychiatric hospital, to her dream of one day living in Venice and having a family, Freud's Sister imagines with astonishing insight and deep feeling the life of a woman lost to the shadows of history.

Adolfina Freud was the youngest of Sigmund Freud’s sisters. Sickly and shunned by an unloving mother who keeps telling her she should never have been born, Adolfina develops a strong bond with her eldest brother whom she adores. He shelters her and loves her as they grow into adulthood. Sigmund marries and becomes successful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmeraizing May 16 2014
By Nela
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was so emotionally move when I was reading this book. All what was true in 1940 is true today. I learn so much abut Vienna of this time and Mr. Freud's and Klimt - it was my starting point in learning more about both men.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly Moving and Intense Sept. 13 2012
By Great Historicals - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The award-winning international sensation that poses the question: Was Sigmund Freud responsible for the death of his sister in a Nazi concentration camp?

The boy in her memories who strokes her with the apple, who whispers to her the fairy tale, who gives her the knife, is her brother Sigmund.

Vienna, 1938: With the Nazis closing in, Sigmund Freud is granted an exit visa and allowed to list the names of people to take with him. He lists his doctor and maids, his dog, and his wife's sister, but not any of his own sisters. The four Freud sisters are shuttled to the Terezín concentration camp, while their brother lives out his last days in London.

Based on a true story, this searing novel gives haunting voice to Freud's sister Adolfina--"the sweetest and best of my sisters"--a gifted, sensitive woman who was spurned by her mother and never married. A witness to her brother's genius and to the cultural and artistic splendor of Vienna in the early twentieth century, she aspired to a life few women of her time could attain.

From Adolfina's closeness with her brother in childhood, to her love for a fellow student, to her time with Gustav Klimt's sister in a Vienna psychiatric hospital, to her dream of one day living in Venice and having a family, Freud's Sister imagines with astonishing insight and deep feeling the life of a woman lost to the shadows of history.

Adolfina Freud was the youngest of Sigmund Freud's sisters. Sickly and shunned by an unloving mother who keeps telling her she should never have been born, Adolfina develops a strong bond with her eldest brother whom she adores. He shelters her and loves her as they grow into adulthood. Sigmund marries and becomes successful. His work into mental illness gains acclaim and his career reaches loftier heights, bringing much distance in his relationship with his sister. Adolfina's life, on the other hand, begins a downward spiral that plummets her into madness and depression, and ultimately institutionalized for a period.

As World War II heats up, and the Nazi's seize control of Austria, Sigmund, because of his career, has the paperwork necessary to flee the country with members of his family. He takes his wife and even his dog, but does nothing for his sisters. Sigmund ignores their please to get them out of the country and ultimately results in their capture and execution in the gas chambers at Terezin.

This is a very complex, and emotionally moving book, which left me feeling a bit unsettled as to Sigmund's behavior with Adolfina, at times treating her experimentally and coldly like a test subject and at other times, treating her like a beloved sister. I had trouble understanding why Sigmund would deliberately leave his family in Austria under threat of the Nazis when he had the means to save them, but no one but Sigmund Freud will ever be able to answer that question. It is for these very reasons that this novel is so captivating, so haunting, so fascinating, and so richly deserves the prestigious international award and all the attention it has garnered.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great but unpleasant story Nov. 23 2012
By Laurie A. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sigmund Freud had several sisters; Adolfina was the one he called `the sweetest and best of my sisters'. She never married, was treated poorly at home, spent years in a psychiatric hospital, and ended her life in a Nazi concentration camp. This book is historical fiction, not biography- it would be difficult to write a biography of Adolfina as there is not much known about her. But it's more than a fictional biography; it's also a treatise on the lack of meaning of life and how horrible most lives are. Everyone seems to have mental health problems- Adolfina's mother is emotionally abusive, her lover suffers from extreme depression, her best friend Klara Klimt (sister of artist Gustav) spends years in the asylum rooming with Adolfina, Sigmund, while brilliant, is fixated on the Oedipus syndrome and penis envy. A fair part of the novel takes place in the asylum, describing the patients there. All of the people except Sigmund Freud have hard, hard lives. The story is brutal and moving, albeit written in lovely prose (no mean feat when the story was written in Macedonian and translated to English).

The question that this story hangs on is this: When Sigmund Freud got visas to leave Vienna to the safety of England, why did he take, along with his wife and children, his wife's family, his doctor and his family, and the house servants, but not his four sisters? Did he not value them? He was dying of cancer; did the pain affect his thinking? Did his wife's family have something to do with it? The question goes unanswered. I personally thought the story was good, but I did not enjoy it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Sept. 19 2012
By Christine N. Ethier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Disclaimer: I received a copy via Netgalley.

It is perhaps a little known fact that Freud's sisters died in the Holocaust while the man himself and other members of family were able to escape. That is pretty much all I know about the Freud family. Regardless, it made me interested enough to request a copy of Freud's Sister by Goce Smilevski.

I'm not entirely what I was expecting but the book wasn't quite it. And that's not a bad thing. It is the books that surprise us, but that don't disappoint us, that are gems.

Smilevski's novel is told from the viewpoint of Adolfina and starts with the days prior to the Second World War before moving into the War and then into the past, tracing Adolfina's life . Mr. Smilevski writes in his author's note that "The silence around Adolfina is so loud that I could write this novel in no other way than in her voice". I find myself thinking about that line as I think about this book and struggle to do the book justice with this review.

For while the book wasn't quite what I thought it would be and while it is quiet in terms of action, it is a beautiful, stunning, and powerful book. What Smilevski has done is taken a quiet life and made a quiet, yet engrossing story. While she is acquainted with famous men - her brother and Klimet - Adolfina's story is her story. It is a story of a life that does shake the universe, a life that doesn't call down the heavens, and a life that doesn't seem to change anyone who history declares matter. If you take the action of the book alone, and just the action, then you have a book where what is of most interest is the discussion of philosophy and psychology. That's it - well, that and a desire to smack Freud upside the head (as if the whole women wanting a penis thing didn't make you want to do that already).

To look at the book in terms of action and solely in terms of physical action does the book and Smilevski a huge disservice. It is the language of this novel that makes the novel, that shows that there her brother, and her lover that makes the book. The language is like a melancholy poetry that yet, somehow, contains a kernel of hope in it.

Adolfina's view of life is different, and perhaps more real, than her brother's, a brother who the reader seems to only know though his coming and going, a figure that seems as distance and as dream made as the trees that other residents of the Nest see.

Ah the Nest, some of the best writing in this book deals with the Nest, a madhouse that is center in two ways to Adolfina and her friend Klara, sister of the famous Klimet, who campaigns for woman's rights as well as more encompassing view of love and family than that expressed by Freud and Klara's own family.

In many ways, this juxtaposition of two sisters of two famous men seems to be part of the point, the theme of the novel. It is like Woolf's Shakespeare's sister. What could have these women done if they had been offered more support in terms of parents and siblings as well as society? Part of the tragedy is how alone some of the characters are, as they are separated in various ways from both family and the society . It is hard, impossible really, to not think of Woolf's A Room of One's Own when reading this book. The sense of waste and undervalue simply because of the sex of the characters, because of the gender of the characters is major aspect of the novel.

While the book may not have been what I thought I wanted, it was exactly what I needed to read. The quietness of life is an aspect that gets overlooked in much fiction, undoubtedly because it is difficult to write an interesting book about it. There is a reason why stories end with the happily ever after - it's boring to read about it. What Mr. Smilevski has done is take what many authors would only show as boring and make it magical.

Brilliant!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow. Aug. 30 2012
By Cynthia McArthur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Adolfina Freud was one of many children, and was a sickly child. Her only comfort as a child were the special times she would spend with her older brother Sigmund. He helped rid her of the torture of her mother's cruel words of regretting her birth because of her strangeness, her sickliness. As time went on and the family's golden Siggie began to grow apart from them all, and Adolfina finds her own introspective view point constantly at odds with the rest of the world, still she finds that her world somehow revolves around her brother, or his maybe around hers. Adolfina has friends, a lover, dreams and conversation but is always unfulfilled, empty, longing. Her mother continues to tell her that she is an oddity, an unhappy spinster. But Adolfina is full of her observations, thoughts, philosophy. And when it become too much, she retreats to the Nest, a madhouse. Years of thoughts, observations, strange contentment, slip by, almost without notice, until she finds that her friends are old, her brother and his works are not immortal afterall, and life is everchanging, yet remaining the same. The Nazis come when Adolfina and her sisters are elderly, frail and unable to defend themselves. Golden Siggie has the documents to take himself and his family to London and safety, but he chooses to leave his sisters' names off the list, though he did include his dog.
This was an extremely poetic book. It includes a lot of philosophical conversations between characters, and of course, a lot of psychology.
Although the entire book was thought-provoking and eloquent, the final chapter, the final pages put this book into the 5 star category. Wonderful read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intensely sympathetic portrait of Freud's sister- but based on questionable historical premise Sept. 3 2013
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book shows an intense sympathy with Freud's sisters and their suffering in the last years of their lives. It in doing this however bases itself on a questionable historical premise, the supposition that Freud was responsible for saving himself and his immediate family and entourage while abandoning his sisters to their fate. It also presents Freud the author of 'Civilization and its Discontents' as a kind of trusting historical simpleton who never believed that the Germans would do great evil to the Jews. To the mind this presentation of Freud is the great weakness of the book. And the author however talented by no means writes in such a way as truly resemble the kinds of thought- process Freud himself reveals in his books.
In other words there is a possible double - defamation of Freud.
Nonetheless the work has interesting passages, challenging dialogues between Adelina and Freud including a final one on the subject of Immortality.
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