cover image Freud's Sister

Freud's Sister

Goce Smilevski, trans. from the Macedonian by Christina E. Kramer. Penguin, $16 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-14-312145-9

Macedonian writer Smilevski brings to life one of history's forgotten characters, Sigmund Freud's sister Adolfina, in this gem of a book. Based on a true story, the novel takes place during the brief moments leading up to Adolfina's death in a Nazi concentration camp, during which time she reflects on the decisions and accidents that brought her to this place. Emotionally abused by her mother, heartbroken at the loss of her beloved, and persistently lonely, Adolfina is a sensitive and empathetic narrator who portrays "Siggie" as a loving brother, albeit one who dismissed the opportunity to bring his sisters safely to London with him at the time of the Nazi occupation of Austria, an act which would ultimately lead the women to the gas chambers of Terez%C3%ADn. Smilevski beautifully juxtaposes Freud's scientific studies of mental illness with Adolfina's own beliefs regarding the beauty of madness (speaking of the mental institution in which she was confined for a time, Adolfina muses that "The human fates at the Nest wove wondrous, often invisible nets"), establishing a provocative discourse on sanity and perception. Adolfina's affection for her brother, her wish to be desired, and her yearning to give love as a mother make it clear why Freud once called her "the sweetest and best of [his] sisters." Though occasionally plodding, Adolfina's story is deeply moving, and Smilevski's approach to her final moments is unforgettable. (Sept.)