Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681373836
Pages: 400
Publication Date: December 17, 2019

Agathe; or, the Forgotten Sister

by Robert Musil, translated from the German by Joel Agee


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An NYRB Classics Original

Agathe is the sister of Ulrich, the so-called “man without qualities” who is the major character in Robert Musil’s great, unfinished novel of that name. Ulrich is intellectual and skeptical and rebellious and yet for all that rule-bound, held hostage by his attraction to the systematic, even if every existing system—political, ethical, metaphysical—strikes this onetime mathematician as fundamentally suspect. When, however, after many years Ulrich and his younger sister, Agathe, reunite over the bier of their dead father, a celebrated lawyer, both siblings are electrified. They are, for one thing, almost each other’s spitting image, while Agathe, who has just separated from her husband, is even more resistant to any kind of status quo than her brother. Engaging in a series of ever more intense and questioning “holy conversations,” brother and sister progressively enlarge the boundaries of sexuality, sensuality, and identity, seeking to arrive at a new conception of reality that they are sure lies within each other to discover.

Musil’s Agathe, or the Forgotten Sister is one of the most unexpected and breathtaking adventures of twentieth-century fiction, while Joel Agee’s new English translation captures all the nuance of Musil’s famously acute and penetrating style.


[A] valuable addition to modernist European literature.

Musil’s writing is so disciplined, his word choice so exact, that sentence follows sentence with a pointedness that seems to come naturally.
—J.M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books/p>

Musil, as much as Joyce, is an intensely personal and domestic bard, although all great writers can of course be seen, or can see themselves, as prophets of political doom, civilization’s collapse.
—John Bayley, The New York Review of Books