A Curable Romantic

by Joseph Skibell


Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell Jakob Sammelsohn, the fictional hero of A Curable Romantic, falls suddenly, madly in love with a woman he spies from a Vienna theater balcony, only to find Sigmund Freud in his way. Freud, still at an early stage in developing his theories of psychoanalysis, is treating the luscious but emotionally frail Emma Eckstein and is loathe to expose her to the perils of a romantic attachment. Inevitably, Sammelsohn does wangle an introduction and learns "to his peril that the heart, like the eye, is drawn not only to light but to the soothing ambiguities of darkness as well."

Emma Eckstein was in fact an early patient of Freud. In addition to pursuing his experimental "talking cure" with her, Freud referred her to his friend and colleague Wilhelm Fliess, whose flirtation with nasal surgery as a cure for sexual neuroses proved less benign. Into Emma Eckstein's outrageous but fact-based story, the novel weaves a tale of a dybbuk, a restless dead soul who has been pining for Sammelsohn since he fled his superstitious Jewish community in Galicia. Perhaps ironically, the dybbuk's dramatic appearance in this comic novel opens the way to a much deeper thematic exploration of spirit and cosmos which ultimately asks how a benevolent God can allow the suffering of innocents.

Halfway through A Curable Romantic, the focus shifts from Freud, Eckstein and the dybbuk to Sammelsohn's burgeoning attraction to a dedicated follower of the Esperanto movement. Invented by an idealistic Russian ophthalmologist, Esperanto was intended "merely ... to end the enmity and hatred that divide the peoples of the world" by giving them a common language. Although the intensity and inspired weirdness of the novel fades as the dybbuk retreats mostly to the background, it remains funny, tender and gently anguished. A visit to Heaven from the Nazi-occupied Warsaw ghetto of 1940 carries through the poignant cosmic theme. (2010; 593 pages)

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Other novels featuring Freud and his patients:

Where Three Roads Meet: The Myth of Oedipus by Salley Vickers (2007) imagines that the dying Sigmund Freud has a mystical meeting with a blind seer of ancient Greece who thinks he overlooked aspects of the Oedipus myth. More info

A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis (2005; titled Mortal Mischief in the U.K.) is a mystery featuring a Viennese psychoanalyst and disciple of Freud as sleuth; #1 in the Liebermann Papers series. More info

The Fig Eater by Jody Shields (2001) is a standalone mystery loosely based on Freud's case study of "Dora." More info


Nonfiction relating to Freud and the Esperanto movement:

The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (1995 Modern Library edition). More info

Freud: A Life for Our Time by Peter Gay (1988). More info

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language by Arika Okrent (2009). More info


Online:

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess dated March 8, 1895 about Emma Eckstein's nasal surgery

About Esperanto at the Lernu! website


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