The Masochist

Translated by Michael Biggins

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.

“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.”

Tom Conaghan, LA Review of Books

“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.”

The Monthly Booking

“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