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HAUSFRAU Review

My thoughts….4.5 stars
Anna Benz is an American expatriate living in a suburb of Zurich. Anna and Bruno have three children, Victor, Charles, and Polly. From the outside Anna’s life seems wonderful.
Anna exerts little effort, even in the beginning, to become a part of the community she lives in, preferring the fringes. She’s never
bothered to get a license and finally, after living in Dietlikon nine years and learning the minimum German necessary to get by, she begins German classes.
Anna’s also in psychoanalysis, suggested by Bruno to fix what he terms “her misery”, where she uses her expensive session time to play
word games with Doktor Messerli. The snippets are revealing yet secretive at the same time.
Bits of Roland explaining the German language and grammar serve as a complement to Anna’s sessions, memories, and present situation.
On one page you may have the present, a session fragment, a bit from German class, and one or two memories. The jumps are disconcerting at first but clarify Anna’s thoughts and actions in the best possible way. It also ensures your complete attention.
HAUSFRAU is elegantly and beautifully written. Ms. Essbaum’s word selections, combinations, and descriptions were so enjoyable that there were times I would re-read for the lyrical flow and pleasure of it. In stark contrast the sexual passages were, no doubt intentionally, vulgar and blunt.
Personally speaking, Anna went beyond ennui. After extremely brief periods of actual participation, Anna seems to prefer passivity, allowing life to happen to her. She drifts and acquiesces, negating responsibility because she obviously had no choice, right? This behavior is a life trend for Anna, not just an acquired behavior since moving to Switzerland.
This quiescent attitude made it difficult to relate to Anna even while being drawn to her story, akin to rubbernecking at a wreck. We always have and make our own choices, acknowledged or otherwise, and passivity can often carry a high price.
HAUSFRAU isn’t an easy read but it is rewarding. On many levels it’s disturbing with tough questions asked of Anna and by extension,
readers. I may not have particularly liked or understood Anna but her story affected me. After reading the last words I sat, saddened and thoughtful, thousands of miles away on a train platform in Wipkingen with Anna as she finally understood and accepted her true self. In the end there was no other choice, was there?
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