Friday, May 24, 2019

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

Title:  The Girls at 17 Swann Street
Author:  Yara Zgheib
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2019. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250202442 / 978-1250202444

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I call it the Van Gogh room."

Favorite Quote:  "There is no tragedy to suffering. It is, just as happiness is. To be present for both, that is life, I think."

Two perspectives...

"I do not suffer from anorexia, I have anorexia. The two states are not the same. I know my anorexia, I  understand it better than the world around me. The world around me is obese, half of it. The other half is emaciated. Values are hollow, but meals are dense with high fructose corn syrup. Standards come in doubles, so do portions. The world is overcrowded but lonely. My anorexia keeps me company, comforts me. I can control it, so I choose it."


"I did not choose anorexia. I did not choose to starve. But every morning, over and over, I choose to fight it, again."

17 Swann Street is a fictional place. It is an in-patient treatment center in Saint Louis to help those with eating disorders such as anorexia heal / grow / change / transition / .... from one to the other. The stories and the journeys are as diverse as the women themselves. Some are successful; some are not.

This is the world Yara Zgheib pulls me into. Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar and a PhD in International Affairs. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. She has also fought her own battle against anorexia. This work, her debut fiction novel, comes from that reality.

Anna Roux is one of the girls at 17 Swann Street. She was a professional dancer in Paris. Love, marriage, and her husband's job bring her from Paris to Saint Louis, Missouri. The loss of dancing, the move, loneliness, and so many other fears send Anna in a downward spiral, dealing with anorexia and depression. She is forced - from love and from fear - to seek treatment.

At Swann Street, she meets the other women, each battling her own demons. She continues to be surrounded by her husband's love. She continues to struggle toward recovery.

At one point, Anna notes, "How little of an eating disorder the naked eye can actually see." This book  tells the story from Anna's perspective, from inside of the eating disorder. The idea of a bite creates extreme fear. The isolation she feels takes her far away even though she has love and support. Each moment feels like a battle. She bears witness to the struggles of others; her successes and failures symbolize whether or not she will succeed or fail. Time with her thoughts brings back memories of the past and the unresolved emotions that surround childhood trauma.

Anna's journal like story is punctuated by notes from her medical file. The matter of fact, unemotional recording of her conditions is the jarring context in which I read her story.

The story and the characters are compelling. I feel myself at 17 Swann Street as if the world outside fades away as these women struggle moment by moment. The women and the place becomes real to the point that I wonder if the place actually exists - not treatment centers which I know do but this actual place which I know does not. I hope that Anna will recover but fear that she may not.

A memorable story!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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