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Freud's Sister: A Novel Paperback – August 28, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (August 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143121456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143121459
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Damaged by loss and haunted by unfulfilled dreams, Adolfina Freud, sister of Sigmund Freud, tells her story. This grim but provocative novel by Macedonian author Smilevski asks whether Sigmund Freud, who escaped the Nazi invasion of Vienna after selecting an entourage including his doctor’s family, his sister-in-law, and his dog, was responsible for the deaths of four of his sisters in a concentration camp. This is largely a book of ideas, with the action progressing slowly, and an examination of the way choices make us who we are. The narrator Adolfina explores her brother’s beliefs through the prism of her own experience, with a sensitivity to human frailty sometimes lacking in his work. The result is an unflinching gaze at love, death, sex, hatred, depression, and madness. The writing is repetitive and raw, with some stilted speeches, but Smilevski has flashes of insight and creates memorable images of despair. Like Freud’s work, Adolfina’s story reaches past its moment in history in an attempt to uncover greater universal truths about the darker side of human nature. --Bridget Thoreson


“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


More About the Author

"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." - Nicholas Meyer.

"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.

Goce Smilevski was born in Skopje, in 1975. For his novel SIGMUND FREUD'S SISTER he won EUROPEAN UNION PRIZE FOR LITERATURE.

Customer Reviews

It starts out so incredibly sad, you just want to cry.
E. Watkins
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.
Lost in Siberia
Very poorly plotted and constructed with unfleshed out characters.
Bonnie R

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Great Historicals on September 13, 2012
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 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Laurie A. Brown VINE VOICE on November 23, 2012
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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Christine N. Ethier on September 19, 2012
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.
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