Book Review: Hausfrau

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum




Hausfrau begins with Anna Benz, a thirty-seven year old bored American expat housewife living in Switzerland, has a passionate affair with an  American man, while her Swiss husband works as a banker at Credit Suisse.  A series of meaningless affairs continue after her lover abandons her and returns to the United States. Anna has everything materially, yet she’s emotionally unfulfilled.

Essbaum is a skilled writer, yet Hausfrau read like a 19th century narrative trope in a modern setting. Anna is weak and feeble, paralysed to move forward and unable to overcome her fears. I couldn’t connect with her emotionally because I didn’t have a reason to care about her.

After living in Switzerland for nine years, Anna doesn’t make any attempt to assimilate into Swiss life. She doesn’t drive, she speaks a bare minimum of German and Schwiizerdütsch (Swiss-German) and she’s unable to deal with the most basic of bureaucratic paperwork –  her own residency permit. All of the family’s house related issues are managed by her husband. She’s as helpless as a Victorian housewife. During one her psychoanalysis sessions, she has an awakening when her Dr. explains her reluctance to learn German is actually a reflection of her inability to assimilate into the Swiss culture. Despite this realization, she remains frozen in fear without making any changes in her life.

I pushed to get through to the end of the novel, hoping it would get better, but it continued to drag on. The ending was predictable and anti-climatic.

* A copy of the book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**