Year of publication
Number of pages
Italy (Voland Edizioni)
UK (Istros Books)
pseudo-autobiography, historical novel, Austria-Hungary, gender issues, feminist issues, role of women, women's freedom, social and political issues, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
by Katja Perat
Why would people trouble themselves with the facts, when fiction is so much more enticing?
Designed as a historical novel, The Masochist forges an intimate portrait of a young, tenacious woman who, in uncertain times of intricate political, social and cultural turbulences at the end of the 19th century, chose an uncertain path – the only path that could lead her to freedom.
On Christmas Eve 1874, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whom history would remember as the most famous masochist, left his home in Bruck an der Mur in 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 girl he found in the forests around Lemberg (today known as Lviv). The Masochist is a memoir of Nadezhda Moser, the woman this little girl becomes, a fictional character who forces her way among the historical figures of the time.
This is a pseudo-autobiographical novel that returns post-postmodernism to modernism and more than that it is a story of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the century that ponders the limits of women's desire and freedom against the backdrop of ethnic, class and gender tensions of an empire, which hasn't yet perceived its decline had already begun.
The Masochist, the first prose work by a leading Slovenian poetic voice Katja Perat, shines a spotlight on aspirations of women in a time when they weren't at the forefront of anyone's mind.
Longlisted for the Kresnik Award for best novel of the year 2019
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this novel is its infinite power of linguistic
invention, one that makes you appreciate the Slovenian language and above all
Katja Perat herself plying it so boldly and so cleverly.
This is a novel that, in a rich, poetic language, examines historical developments on
a personal and a social level and signals the changes that Nadezhdas of this world
fought and won over the next century for women today.
With her novel The Masochist, which indisputably shines due to its originality and
complexity of the story and a refined, piercing style, the poet and writer Katja Perat
once again proves she is one of the most talented contemporary Slovenian authors,
one who rejects small-mindedness and gender inequality in the past and present.
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...
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.
But the reader’s neutrality allows for a further question: How can banality itself be worthy of the name, if this is what it feels like? “The hardest part [about grief] was forsaking the image of your own life that you’d begun confusing with life itself,” a weary Nada learns. In a novel already filled with humor and longing, her final emotional awakening is a quiet triumph.
In The Masochist, Katja Perat evokes two contrasting emotions. By reanimating a fabulous cast of real-life (and larger-than-life) characters, she mixes wry humor and dramatic escapades to create a romp through fin-de-siècle Vienna. Underneath this surface gaiety, however, the tone is poignant and rueful. We can’t help but feel Nada’s great frustration at her era’s blindnesses — the kernel of our own gender inequality. By bringing to life the ideas that underpin much 20th-century thought, Perat helps us see their essential, grandiose deafness.
The Masochist may seem like a fun historical romp but I found it a rich complex novel. It’s full of symbolism and metaphor, plus a few twists thrown in which keep the reader guessing. It is a book that will remain with you long after reading it. The Masochist is unforgettable and also, a big thanks to Istros for pushing this English translation, the original language being Slovenian, out into a wider audience.