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Great Story and Characters

The Girls at 17 Swann Street - Saskia Maarleveld, Yara Zgheib

Anna has moved into bedroom # 5 at  17 Swaan Street which is an eating disorder center for women. Anna had been a dancer. Anna has books to read, places to see, babies to make, birthday cakes to taste. Anna even has unused birthday wishes to spare, Anna is twenty six  -married to Matthais for three years-but her body feels like she is sixty two. So does her brain. Both are tired, irritable, and in pain. Anna doesn’t laugh much anymore. Very little is funny. Anna has anorexia. Anna is five foot four and weights eighty eight pounds. Anna’s basic problem - loss of interest in food. Loss of interest in general. Anna feels she doesn’t suffer from anorexia, she has anorexia. She knows her anorexia. Anna understands it better than the world around her. The world around her is obese at least half of it. Anna’s anorexia keeps her company since her husband works so much and they left France when he got a chance at a job in the states. Anna can control her anorexia, so she chooses it. Anna runs eighty minutes a day, builds strength for another twenty minutes. Anna keeps her caloric intake below eight hundred calories , a thousand when she in binging. Anna weights herself every morning and cries at the numbers on the scale. She cries in front of mirrors and sees fat everywhere. Everyone around Anna seems to think she has a problem. She just had to lose a little weight.  She does not suffer from a sick brain. Anna suffers from a sick heart. Her husband finally tells Anna he tried to ignore she has a problem and brings her to this place. He tells Anna it's because he doesn’t want to live without her. She is his wife and he loves her. He walks into the place with her instead of having her walk in alone as she suggested. Anna is told the rules she must now follow. Anna is told she should always communicate her thoughts and feelings freely. Staff is there to validate those and redirect her behavior and by the end of treatment Anna will be cured of her eating disorder. Anna’s therapist is Katherine and she tells Katherine she does not need this session Anna said she came from a ;loving family and has a husband she adores that she sleeps with every night. No depression or trauma, at least that Anna needs or is inclined to share. No unhealed wounds from her past or skeletons in Anna’s closet that she needs to address. Anna says she is just particular about what she eats, just a little underweight. There are seven young women in the center right now. Five including Anna are anorexic , two have bulimia.  Not hard to spot, they look pubescent and gaunt. Sunken eyes, and sunken faces, scarecrow thin eyes and legs, pale skin and hair, no lips. The patients aren’t women. They are missing breasts, curves, probably periods. Most are wearing children’s clothes. They look androgynous, their skin hanging in loose pockets around fragile frames. Real women have bodies, sex, lives, dinner, and families. Anna soon learns at the center most questions are really instructions in sweetened buttered disguises. Anna also learned three times refusing food meant a feeding tube. Anna remembers she had been her younger brother Camil’s protector until one day she wasn’t good enough and at seven he died from being hit by a car. Anna still had a box of camil’s childish drawings and his little white bear upstairs in bedroom number 5 under her bed. Her mother choose to end her life in their bathroom and join her son. Her father and her sister Sophia refused to speak of Camil. Anna found she forgot things as her anorexia went on but then felt what she could not remember she would not miss. One evening while visiting Matthias gets angry and asks Anna why he wasn’t enough for her to eat like she does in treatment. Anna replied you brought me here, you saved my life. She wonders if and when Matthias will stop coming to visit. Eventually Anna tells Matthias to stop coming to visit. She is finally giving up . She also refuses three meals and gets a feeding tube than she refuses to get out of bed. The next night Emm comes to Anna’s room the next morning and forces Anna to get up and not give up and to make things right with Matthias as she was cruelly hurting him now.

I loved the reality of this book. It felt like you get to see the disease of anorexia up close and personal. It felt like I really got to see the disease of anorexia as well as bulimia  in real ways. What it was like to have this disease. To fight and try to win, knowing this fight would be for the rest of their lives. Also few relatively win and are cured of this horrific disease. Such a harrowing book but I was glad I read it. I loved Matthias  and his love and dedication and loyalty to Anna. Yet also showed his bewilderment and his anger. I loved Anna’s father came across the ocean to the US to spend one evening with Anna. All I can say if you want to know the personal details of anorexia for the people suffering from this disease as wella s the ones who love these people read this in all it’s heartbreak, fear, struggle, fight yet times of joy and happiness. It is a harrowing read for the most part but so worth it. I highly recommend this book.