By Katja Perat
Translated by Michael Biggins
On Christmas Eve 1874, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whom history would remember as the original and most famous masochist, left his home in Bruck an der Mur, Austria for the unknown. The novel surmises he didn’t come back alone, but brought with him a new family member: a tiny red-haired baby girl he found abandoned in the forest. This is the memoir of Nadezhda Moser, the uneasily upper-class married woman this little girl becomes, a fictional character who forces her way amongst some of Central Europe’s most influential historical personalities.
Katja Perat's novel is a serio-comical fictional romp through the Habsburg Empire of the fin de siècle, beginning in 1874 Lemberg (present day Lviv/Lvov in Ukraine), continuing to Vienna, and ending in the Habsburg Adriatic seaport of Trieste in 1912. Along her way, the protagonist, the daughter of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch encounters luminaries of the Empire's cultural elite, including Gustav Klimt and his models Adele Bloch-Bauer and Emilie Flöge, Gustav and Alma Mahler, Sigmund Freud, Theodor Herzl, the Princess von Thurn und Taxis, Rainer Maria Rilke and others, in each case providing the reader with new, seemingly first-hand insights into these real-life individuals’ characters and thought, not to mention the protagonist’s own long and sometimes tortured personal development and emotional maturation. Its title notwithstanding, The Masochist is a delight and immensely rewarding to read: witty, energetic, erudite, profound, and all of a piece.
"Here she meets the likes of Gustav Klimt, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and (later) Rainer Maria Rilke, but each is viewed through the lens of how Nada personally interacts with him. She meets Herzl only once, and references Mahler and Klimt in passing; one of Klimt’s models, Emilie Flöge, requires more narrative attention than the painter himself. An individual’s encounters with fame will always be more delightfully randomized than a history student’s."
Jennifer Helinek, Open Letter Review
"The Masochist is a work of fiction rooted in fact – a smart retelling of a period with which readers may think they are familiar, a rebalancing of traditional gender roles, and a many-layered exploration of the individual psyche that strikes exactly the right balance between entertaining and profound."
"I thought this was a superb book. It was witty, dabbled around with an interesting part of history, told an excellent story, had a narrator who was not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself..."
John Alvey, The Modern Novel
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