Following in the footsteps of 2006’s Conversation with Spinoza, Macedonian writer Goce Smilevski plucks an individual from history and brings her to life. For Freud’s Sister, Smilevski chose Adolfina Freud, Sigmund’s youngest sister who was killed during the holocaust.
Why do you think it’s important to investigate history’s “forgotten” characters, and why Adolfina?
In The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera wrote that “historiography writes the history of society, not of a man,” while the art of the novel has the ability to examine “the historical dimension of human existence.” Historiography remembers only the influential people; its selective memory neglects the lives of ordinary people. Adolfina Freud is one of those billions of forgotten people, and we are certain of just a few facts of her life and death. We know nothing about her joys and sorrows. On the other hand, many things about her brother Sigmund have been well recorded, including those that are trivial, such as where he bought cigars. Writing a novel narrated by a relative of one of the most influential people in history was, for me, a symbolic act; I was giving a voice to one of those forgotten people whose lives, happiness, and tragedies have been lost.
What kind of research did you do to reimagine Adolfina’s life?
My main research was about 19th-century and early 20th-century life, the Holocaust, psychoanalysis, and her brother’s works.
How did Sigmund Freud’s work influence how you novelized his sister’s life and death?
The fictional Adolfina’s notions of life, death, madness, love, dreams, and women are often juxtaposed with those of Sigmund Freud’s. For example, Freud was, in a way, a misogynist—he wrote that the personality of each female originates from her penis envy. Adolfina gives us a different perspective—in the novel, she suggests that women’s personalities originate from sources other than penis envy.
Madness is a recurrent theme in Freud’s Sister, and Adolfina and her brother have differing views on it. What is your personal take on madness?
I believe that madness has to be studied and cured scientifically, but we should never forget the pain it causes to the ones that suffer from it, nor should we forget the differences in each of these sufferings. We are reminded of this with the opening sentence of the chapter in the mental hospital: “All normal people are normal in the same way, each mad person is mad in his own way.”