Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

My last semester of high school, I remember going up to my AP English teacher and asking, “Hey, can you recommend a book that isn’t wives cheating on their husbands?” I had just finished reading Madame Bovary, and earlier that year read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. My junior year, we spent several months on The Scarlet Letter. 

In case you are wondering, my teacher recommended this book, and it was exactly what I needed. My snippy high school self look a long hiatus from the adulteress-based book. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like the preceding titles, I just wanted something different.

Now enter 2015, and I fell in love with this cover.


I had seen the book in magazines, but I hadn’t known what it was about, nor did I know that it was based both on Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. The author is a known poet, and this is her first novel.

The book chronicles Anna, a housewife (hausfrau) in Switzerland, who manages her day-to-day boredom with a string of affairs. She is married to Bruno, a Swiss-born baker who loves her in his own way, but is still brutish when his temper flares (Brutish? Bruno? Perhaps not a coincidence). She has three children, and admits that her youngest, Polly Ann, is not Bruno’s child. Who is Polly Ann’s father? What is his hold on Anna?

Anna visits with a Dr. Messerli, a Jungian trained psychiatrist. The author paints a picture (through Anna’s eyes) of Swiss culture as focused on practicality- the trains always run on time, high quality timepieces and chocolates, the women wearing practical clothing. Therefore, it was difficult for me to imagine a culture defined by practicality, endorsing a therapy modality such as the Jungian style, which is a more fluid, less objective form of psychotherapy, than its cognitive/behavioral counterparts. However, this Jungian backdrop made for more poetic interactions.

Like her classic predecessors, Anna has much to learn. But will she take the steps to learn them?

This was a very engaging read, and it made me want to revisit the classics. My high-school self, no doubt, is rolling her eyes.

Further Reading:

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