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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum




 Hausfrau is sure to evoke strong reactions. Its publisher, Random House, is extoling it as "a literary 50 Shades of Grey." It  has sold publishing rights in 14 international markets and ordered a third printing.

The book is a modern re-telling of Anna Karenina. In Hausfrau, Anna is an American living in Switzerland with her austere and handsome Swiss husband, mother-in-law, and three young children. Her lack of language skills and her own aloofness contribute to her ongoing sense of alienation. Yet, the main characteristic of our protagonist is her passivity.

As the novel progresses, we realize that Anna lacks all sense of direction. She has no moral core. Adultery, in the form of casual sex, is her escape from boredom and her acquiescence to a need to be desired.

Essbaum is a poet and her novel's language substantiates this. Her characters are well-drawn. Yet the difficulty in loving this book rests in Anna's unlikeability. We learn, through Anna's sessions with her psychoanalist, that she lost both her parents at a critical age. She felt unloved by others who cared for her. This may have contributed to her need to be dominated by men. However, Anna is so self-absorbed and uncaring of others that the reader finds it hard to understand her.

Hausfrau is definitely a well-written book with lots of explicit sex scenes. Anna is a complicated character, the subject of which might ignite heated debate at a book club. As Anna Russell wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "(Hausfrau) is guarenteed to be a hit. Nothing sells better than a large group of people complaining about the content...Now we just want to see what the fuss is about."

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