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
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.