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

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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