Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Freud's Sister by Goce Smilevski

“The goal of all life is death” – and death was to feature so predominantly in the lives of Freud and his family in the years to come.

We begin the story with the last year or so that Freud spent in Vienna prior to his escape from the Nazi’s.  He took a select group with him – his in-laws, his doctor, his housekeeper, and his dog – leaving behind his four elderly sisters to their own fate.  On 29th June 1942, the four sister are forced to leave their apartment for the death camps – the first stop being Terezin. After being moved to another camp, the sisters reach their ultimate fate – the gas chambers.

We then return to Adolfina who recounts her life to us with recollections of her early childhood illnesses, her fragile relationship with her mother, and her growing distant relationship with her once close brother, Sigmund.  Through her painting, we are introduced to key people in Adolfina’s early adulthood: Bertha and Sarah Auerbach, Klara and Gustav Klimt, and Ranier Richter. 

Following the death of Sarah, Klara Klimt retreats into her own world after spending her time promoting womens' rights and looking to the welfare of women and children.  Klara is admitted to the Nest and psychiatric clinic. 

Adolfina reconnects with Ranier Richter from her childhood and a relationship develops.  Her brother and sisters have married and she moves in with Ranier.  Following the death of his mother, Ranier submits to his lifelong depression and commits suicide – Adolfina discovers that she is pregnant – Sigmund helps her to arrange for a abortion.   After a family gathering to celebrate their mother’s birthday, Adolfina, aged 34yo leaves her home to join Klara at the Nest in Vienna.

We are told lots of tales about the inmates of the Nest and Dr Goethe; of her brother's leanings towards all things Germanic and his work.  Rather unnecessary in my mind - and this only bogs down the reader with a history lesson and psychiatry and psychoanalysis of the early 19th and 20th Century.

Seven years later, Adolfina and Klara leave the Nest – a year of the conclusion of the Great War (World War I), Gustav Klimt is dead and his sister Klara returns to the Nest – Adolfina takes over the care of Gustav’s many sons, previously under the care of Klara.  That same year saw the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the formation of Austria. 

In the suceeding three years, tragedy upon tragedy befalls Freud and his family – death, illness and suicide.  Sigmund himself is not immune and is developing as yet un-diagnosed cancer.  Adolfina is left to care for her dying mother (1930) – and her lifelong friend Klara Klmit escapes from the Nest – albeit briefly.

February 1933 - Germany has a new leader – one Adolf Hitler.  All the sisters are reunited in Vienna.   And it is here we catch up with the fate of the elderly quartet as Sigmund leaves for London when Austria is taken over.  The sisters are moved from camp to camp, and finally to their deaths.  Why did Sigmund not save his sisters from their fate will remain forever unknown.


Goce Smilevski website: "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. He is author of several novels and theater plays. His novel Freud's Sister won the European Union Prize for Literature and is being published in more than thirty languages."

Article in the Jewish Daily Forward: Sigmund Freud's Sister Complex
Wikipedia: Freud's Family
Jewish Virtual Library - Terezin (Teresienstadt)

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