"A young heir to Gunter Grass and Jose Saramago, Smilevski might be the newest of a rare thing -- a living European novelist with a message for the future of his continent." - Joshua Cohen, Forward.
Goce Smilevski was born in Skopje in 1975. He grow up in an orphanage where his mother worked carrying for twenty children. He was educated at the Charles University in Prague, at Central European University in Budapest and at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. He is the author of the novels CONVERSATION WITH SPINOZA and SIGMUND FREUD'S SISTER.
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,
When Sigmund Freud left Vienna in 1938 to escape the Nazi threat he was able to request visas for a group of companions: he took various members of his extended family with him - but left behind his four elderly sisters. All in their 70s, they were placed in Nazi concentration camps and died there. This disturbing decision on the part of Freud is the springboard for this imagining of the life of Adolfina Freud, Sigmund's youngest sister.
This is a beautifully written and lovingly translated novel, though it never escapes the boundaries of Freudian thought. Adolphina's story is replete with dissonant sexual experiences in the household, with themes of love and death, of dreams, of madness and beauty - the very concepts upon which Freud's work was based. So while this purports to give a voice to the muted Adolphina, according to the author's preface, her voice is already constrained, bounded and contained by Freudian discourse.
This is a very dark book with lots of death and distress within its pages. I like the way it doesn't try to explain away Freud's decision as if there were ever an easy answer to the things we do or, as in this case, fail to do. There has been some controversy over this book in terms of its depictions of historical people, not least Freud himself.
So this is an intelligent and emotional read that is very intense in places - recommended.
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I love well-written historical novels and this is definitely one: A revolutionary thinker who opened up the unconscious, was Freud confused and self-centered in personal life? Was he facing "Sophie's Choice"? 1938 Vienna, the state of women and women's rights, the presence of Gustav Klimt's and Kafka's sisters makes interesting reading but what makes this book a gem is that Smilevski enters the mind of Freud's sister and so do we. Highly recommendable.
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I bought this book as a birthday gift for a friend. She says it was one of the best books she's ever read. She couldn't believe that Freud actually could have saved his family from the concertration camps by putting their names on his family list to emigrate, but he didn't and they all died.. The book came quickly and the service excellent but I did fin the paperback version pretty pricey.. If it wasn't a gift I wouldn't have bought it honestly
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Incredibly Moving and Intense13 Sept. 2012
The Curious Dame
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
What Smart Minds Discard.14 Feb. 2013
Lost in Siberia
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an excellent book for smart guys: who, like me, like big ideas, and who admire guys who express big ideas in books and art, like Freud, Klimt, Kafka. This book is about people with those names.
But not about those whom we exclusively associate with those names, while ignoring that there must have been others.
It's about those with the names Adolfina Freud, Klara Klimt, Ottla Kafka, sisters of the famous smart guys. Also appearing briefly are Mia Krauss the grandmother of famous writer Karl, and Johanna Broch the mother of famous author Hermann. The women, except for Klara who has died by then, meet in a Nazi prison, consigned to die in gas chambers. And forgotten since.
Not so for the famous men: they if still living, like Sigmund, had more worldly regard and were provided with the means for escape, and a better afterlife.
This book is about what the world, with us smart guys following along, usually disregards, consigns to the margins, ignores, forgets, now as then.
Adolfina, the narrator, and her friend Klara, despite spirited attempts to engage the world on their own, came to recognize that they're not much wanted or respected. Deemed depressives, they volunteered to spend years in a madhouse. Among the authoritative sane, only the director of the madhouse, named Dr. Goethe, a relative of the famous one, tried to understand them respectfully, on their own terms, but his path seemed eccentric, antiquated, too romantic, a path not taken by the modern age which increasingly accorded empathy and imagination much less sanction than scientific detachment and rigor -- the smart, dry, perhaps delusional, rationality championed by Sigmund and so many others.
But Sigmund was the family's champion, always supported, and a champion for the modern age, while Adolfina's needs and desires were usually annoyances, distractions, embarrassments, and worse. She didn't seem smart. Her mother often disparaged her. Others saw her as silly and ridiculous. Klara's situation was much the same, but she made herself useful at times by looking after brother Gustav's many illegitimate children, about whom Herr Klimt didn't care much as he was a wild and crazy guy, a loose cannon, but one well-regarded and rewarded by society: he produced very marketable, very profitable goods. Something mere madness with its excess of empathy, nurturing, love, vulnerability, sorrow . . . usually doesn't produce.
We still live where reason must be rationality -- the ordering of life with math and physical science as exclusive model, metaphor and method, with quantifiable, marketable results much preferred. Where that which is not rational is unreason, and is consigned at best to entertainment -- rationality's silly little timeout. And if not entertaining, then to be discarded.
But this novel offers us a journey toward the other side, toward the reason of the arational, the unquantifiable, disrespected, useless, discarded Other, almost unbearably sad sometimes to take us to depths of feeling out of mind's grip, past rationality's control, maybe only slumming there, but back up . . . The novel's Adolfina experienced and perhaps came to understand the inner and outer life, the unconscious and madness and all that, more poetically, more tragically and therefore more spiritually, what Germans call geistlich, than her famous brother. Do we have a use for that? Toward the end, she presents us with an incipient Neo-Platonism akin to that of T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" . . .
This book is partly a poet's, a vulnerable dreamer's argument against critics who always seem more knowing, more mature, more rational, smarter. The author, like Flaubert on Madame Bovary, might be inclined to say, "Freud's sister, that's me!" And his achievement is that this work made me want, see, accept this to be so for me also. Great books seductively force us to recognize characteristics within ourselves, internalize characters, and so make us more.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Great but unpleasant story24 Nov. 2012
Laurie A. Brown
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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 6 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful19 Sept. 2012
Christine N. Ethier
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Wow.30 Aug. 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
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.