Hausfrau is a saga about boredom, ennui and self-destruction. It resonates because the protagonist Anna’s anchorlessness and directionlessness is expressed in different ways by so many people these days that it is a sort of pandemic.
The plot happens to choose a housewife (literal translation of Hausfrau) to portray this insidious spiral, but it could just as easily have been a corporate employee caught in the yawns of mindless routine. The reason for this downward spiral is not quite the social role the person is playing, I feel, but the choices and environment one makes/ allows in their life.
A more personal reason this book engaged me was because Anna moves to Switzerland after her wedding, and the book explores the life of an expatriate in Switzerland, from the eyes of a newcomer. I have been there 🙂 and still am in many ways. The familiar settings of the book thrilled me: the cobbled roads, punctuality of trams and trains, Migros supermarkets, all the Strasse’s and Gasse’s to walk through. Much like other newcomers, Anna wonders at and struggles through the shut-down of shops at 6 pm, the world suddenly switching off and going to sleep at 10 pm, German classes, and the poignant realization that even with proficiency in High-German, one will still be miles away from Swiss-German.
There’s a lot going for her though: her family and a beautiful home, a city full of beauty, order and peace. Viktor Frankl says that one who has a ‘why’ to live can live through any ‘how’. For Anna, even though the ‘how’ seems perfect, on most days she can find no ‘why’ for her life or her actions.
Why? Well, there is her personality- passive and secretive, her husband- aloof, her environment- one that she has not mastered, and her choices- that need to be kept secret. It’s true that secrets have a way of isolating you. If you have something to hide, often you do that by hiding yourself from others.
Her one real friend and her concerned counsellor cannot help her, because she has not put on her safety belt. Why? Maybe because she doesn’t know that she is crashing. Like a frog in a jar of water slowly coming to a boil.
I remember a friend once argued, “What if people don’t know what to ask for because they don’t know what they need? What if they suffer but don’t realize they are going down a spiral?”
How do you put up a fight when you don’t know you are under attack? Especially if it is by your own actions, and more so if by your own inaction. In our own heads it always feels like we have figured it all out, but perhaps it is important to ask oneself some questions now and then, as if to a new friend…
Is there something in the future that you imagine, that makes you smile?
Is there something that you do everyday that gives you joy? It could be as simple as talking to a friend.
Is there a safe place where you can actually say what you think?
Do you feel you are winning over more things, or are more things winning over you?