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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Girls at 17 Swann Street: A Novel by Yara Zgheib

A Review by Wendy 
3.5 Losing Self/Fighting to Reclaim It Stars
* * * 1/2  
Spoiler Free 

This book first caught my eye because the main character was a ballet dancer. At first, with the cover, it looked like it might be about a ballet company and all of the challenges. Then I read more of the blurb and realized it was about anorexia. Last year I read a book about Karen and Richard Carpenter. It covered their career and also Karen's involvement with this disorder. Understanding this was told by someone in the throes of this disease, it gave me the correct mindset to take it all in.

Ana was a ballet dancer in Paris, France and loved the hard work and dedication it required.
She was doing well with the company and also found love. Matthias was taken with her mind, her zest for life; he fell in love and they married. Living in Paris was everything for the both of them. They had a simple life of enjoying all of the little cafes, tasting the croissants, having wonderful picnics and being there for each other. They didn't have much but what they had was real.

Then life threw a curveball. Ana damaged her knee causing a break in her career. Matthias received a huge employment opportunity and it was in America. With all of these elements, the move to middle America seemed the right thing to do.

The move was a challenge for Ana. She was physically able to dance once again but could not find any company openings. She was left without focus and with Matthias at work. Alone, Ana slowly seemed to lose herself...She lost her desire for all the things she had loved...real vanilla ice cream, pizza, meat, cheese...things which had such happy memories from when she first was courted by Matthias. She then became Vegan...apples being a mainstay.

Eventually, Ana finds herself entering 17 Swann Street, a rehab/treatment center for those suffering from eating disorders. She had shrunk to 88 lbs. and had been confronted with the reality of how extremely severe her situation was.

This is where we start this book. Ana is entering the center. She is there because of her husband, her family, and her idea that she will be able to get through this as she has a handle on it. But deep down inside, she knows there is something which will not allow her to be who she once was... that person seems to have disappeared.

We are there when she is first confronted by the staff and also receives specific guidance from another "client" who gives her a list of insider rules... a way to survive. Ana does have a secret weapon, though... The undying love of Matthias.

This is a very complicated journey and story. The idea of living through this and having someone who is afflicted with this horrible disease give tremendous insight into the mindset and inability to overcome the games the mind plays. Having the very nourishment we need to survive become the very poison to avoid shows how dangerous this can be. I cannot say whether the representation of how these rehabs work with insurance companies is accurate, however, one would hope the patients would be able to receive all of the treatment they need to overcome this.

This type of situation does not affect only the person suffering; it works its way into all of the relationships they have. It tears at the core of their love and tests the strength of everyone. It is heartbreaking.

This book had all of the elements needed to understand what kind of fight this undertaking is. We all need knowledge and empathy for those who are fighting these kinds of disorders. It is not like a switch can be turned off and everything will be ok.
It is like a cancer of the mind where it finds a spot then feeds on itself and grows to the point where the person is taken over and has to fight for their lives.

A journey on a difficult rode.

A gifted copy was provided by St. Martin's Press for an honest review.

Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a PhD in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D'études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, "Aristotle at Afternoon Tea"

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