Freud’s Sister: A Novel, by Goce Smilevski, although a novel, reads like a memoir. Smilevski has written a fictional account of Adolfina Freud, Sigmund Freud’s youngest sister. Within the pages, her voice resounds, hauntingly, as the story unfolds from her perspective.
Adolfina’s mother was a cold woman. She continually expressed to Adolfina that it would have been better off if she had never been born. She heard those words from the moment she entered the world. Motherly love was not displayed, and it had its effects on Adolfina, and affected her self-worth. There was only one person who was able to quell the negativity, her brother.
Her relationship with Sigmund was a close one during her childhood. At that point in her life he was able to bring her comfort, and she felt cared for. As she came into adulthood, he more or less emotionally separated from her, especially once he began his psychological studies, and once he married. It was as though she no longer existed. This emotional parting was distressing, on many levels, to Adolfina.
She found comfort with a lover, a man who she knew from childhood, and a man who found it difficult to open up, building a wall around himself. Eventually their relationship ends, and Adolfina finds herself floundering, unable to cope.
Within the pages Adolfina befriends a woman named Klara, sister to Gustav Klimt. Klara is a champion for women’s rights. Through their friendship, Adolfina finds comfort and support, support that was never given to her by her mother or other family members.
The reader is taken back in time to a period where women were not considered equals, and often times sent to sanatoriums in order to cure their melancholy or other emotional issues. Adolfina eventually ends up in one, called The Nest. Klara is there, also.
Within the walls of The Nest, she discovers societies within the sanatorium social structure. From special rooms for the dying to those who have fallen into complete madness, the social tiers are vividly painted with Smilevski’s brilliant word-imagery.
The book is not an uplifting read, and focuses on Adolfina’s emotional decline, within the family unit that was devoid of affection. A prime example of that lack of concern was the fact Sigmund, his family, his maids, and even his dog escaped the threshold of WWII, and left for London, leaving Adolfina and his other sisters behind. He could have gotten visas for them, but left them off of his list of those that would travel with him.
She begged him, continually to get visas for them, but to no avail. It was as if they did not exist in his life, and any familial ties there might have been were broken. Sigmund was self-absorbed, and his goals were more important than the lives of his family members. He was cold-hearted, and gave her ridiculous excuses as to why he couldn’t get the visas. Those excuses eventually lead to the deaths of his sisters at the hands of the Nazis.
Smilevski did his research, pouring through correspondence, documents, books, and everything relevant to the Freud’s. Accuracy was extremely important to him, and he endeavored to include the facts in the book. In my opinion, the novel is one of historical importance regarding the Freud family.
Groce Smilevski has written an extremely profound novel, filled with details so minute, this reader was caught up in them. From psychological aspects to philosophical aspects, Freud’s Sister: A Novel, is a masterful book that demonstrates the decline of a family and the struggles of women during a time when women were considered second-class.