As both the patient’s and the doctor’s vulnerabilities are exposed, the very nature of a person’s “story” is called into...

DREAMING FOR FREUD

Kohler’s (Bay of Foxes, 2012, etc.) new novel fictionalizes the story of Dora, one of Freud’s earliest and most memorable patients.

In 1900, a wealthy industrialist brings his 18-year-old daughter to his own doctor—Sigmund Freud—for treatment of her “nervous” cough and “imaginary” leg and abdominal pains. Dora is crucial to Freud, who is still in the beginning stages of his career, not only for the fee he can command for her daily sessions, but because he hopes to find validation of his theories concerning the causes of hysteria. Reclining on his Persian-carpeted couch, gazing at his Greek and Roman antiquities, Dora (a pseudonym) is at first a reluctant analysand. She's there because she accused a family friend, Herr Z., of trying to molest her, and her family thinks she's lying. Soon she begins to view Freud as the only confidant who believes her stories. She tells him that her father has an invidious motive for defending Herr Z.: He is consorting with Frau Z. and is in effect willing to barter his daughter in return for Herr Z.’s cooperation. Freud appears sympathetic at first but later alienates Dora by implying that, far from feeling revulsion for Herr Z., she desires him. In retaliation, after dipping into Freud’s critically reviled The Interpretation of Dreams, Dora invents two dreams which Freud, eager for such fodder, interprets as further indications of Dora’s sexual obsessions. Thus, though hewing closely to the details of the Dora case study as written and published by Freud after the abrupt departure of his patient, the novel tests its veracity. Kohler handily exploits the therapeutic deadlock between the two principals to reveal character. Freud’s insecurities, frustrations, self-absorption and longing—for a more prosperous existence, for a trip to Rome, for the return of his estranged friend Fliess—are sensitively evoked, as are Dora’s internal conflicts. 

As both the patient’s and the doctor’s vulnerabilities are exposed, the very nature of a person’s “story” is called into question.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-14-312519-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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