Yara Zgheib’s The Girls at 17 Swann Street is the beautifully tragic story of a young woman’s fight against anorexia in a treatment facility that rips her of her autonomy and her ability to eat only apples and popcorn.
Anna lives in Saint Louis with her beloved husband, Matthias; they moved here from Paris for his career. She is lonely – Matthias works late, and finding friends or purpose in this Midwest town has proven difficult. She used to be a ballerina in Paris, and the stark contrast between her old and new life are too much.
In an effort to cope – with loneliness, hopelessness, lack of purpose, Anna has stopped eating. We meet her as she’s being checked in to a treatment center for eating disorders. Zgheib tells a melodic story of Anna’s life at 17 Swann Street – the meals she’s forced to eat, the therapy sessions she’s forced to attend, and the women she meets within the treatment center. Anna has faded away, both physically and emotionally, because of anorexia. Can she find her way back from this disease to begin life anew?
Please take caution while reading The Girls at 17 Swann Street if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Sexual assault
- Self-harm / suicide
- Eating disorders / body hatred
- Death / dying
- Mental illness
The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a fantastic piece of fiction. Zgheib is amazingly able to maintain a lightness throughout a story covering such a heavy topic. She tackles the topic of eating disorders with grace and sensitivity. While I have no personal experience with eating disorders, I can’t help but feel that her writing on the subject was piercingly honest.
Zgheib does so many things right with this novel, not the least of which being the pace she’s created. The paragraphs and chapters are perfectly short. It reads similar to The Silent Patient – it propels you through the story, not keeping you on one topic for too long. You’re always moving through the days of Anna’s treatment. I flew through this book.
Another amazing aspect of The Girls at 17 Swann Street is the use of flashbacks. So much of Anna’s illness is caused by the pain of no longer being in Paris and no longer being a ballerina. Zgheib takes us through Anna’s childhood, life as a dancer and in Paris, and finally life in Saint Lous leading up to and through the development of her eating disorder, which is so illuminating. These flash backs also tactfully break up the heartbreaking time Anna spends at 17 Swann Street with happier times from her past.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street will grab hold of your heart and not let go. It beautifully provides an intimate perspective on eating disorders and addictions that those of us not personally affected may not have otherwise had , while also telling a morbidly fascinating story about, ultimately, the resilience of the human mind and heart.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on The Girls at 17 Swann Street. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.