Dear Afternoon Tea Lover,
“I know I will never be president or hold any position of power that will significantly change the world as I had dreamed, but by choosing to see beauty and sharing that vision, I hope I can contribute – a little – to make the world a better place.”
These are the words of Yara Zgheib. The raw truth about how she sees the world and her role in it is what makes her writing so compelling. This is the second of a two-part feature about Yara and her debut novel, The Girls at 17 Swann Street.
In a society that often measures success by fame and fortune, Yara’s intentions are refreshing. They also permeate her work and her person.
As a relatively young writer, Yara’s work is getting the attention it deserves maybe in part because of a certain old-fashioned romanticism in her writing. It speaks to days gone by when people trusted each other and not afraid to dream.
And dream Yara does, building conversations around hope and compassion. Her novel, The Girls at 17 Swann Street, tackles epidemic eating disorders and provides a compelling explanation for this mental health crisis.
Yara’s story centers on a twenty-six-year-old Anna Roux who is forced to move into Bedroom 5 at 17 Swann Street. We quickly realize, at the onset, the critical state that Anna is in, and this is a medical treatment house.
Over the course of the novel, Yara travels back and forth in time, showing readers how this disease can stealthily take hold when stress and disappointment are overwhelming.
We learn Anna was a trained ballerina in France about to realize her dream of joining a company. But a foot injury crushes her chances of ever dancing professionally.
Thankfully, all is not lost for Anna who has Matthias. He is the love of her life and helps her to feel loved and supported. So when he asks Anna to move to America with him, she quickly agrees without realizing that new beginnings bring their own set of challenges. Loneliness and depression are waiting for her.
Many of us recognize this familiar journey – setting a course in life only to be disappointed when things don’t work out. Moving can be a new opportunity, a second chance, but we learn something more from Yara. Change is never simple and unresolved insecurities and fears come with us. When pushed, they can invade our psyche and spiral out of control, the way they do for Anna as her loneliness and isolation morph into dysfunctional behaviors.
Anxiety, self-destructive behavior, obsessions, and distorted realities can wreak havoc on self-esteem and confidence.
How we deal with these feelings and the problems that arise in life inevitably affects our physical and mental wellbeing. For Anna, and the other girls who live at 17 Swan Street, these negative feelings manifest into depression and a very distorted and destructive relationship with food.
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and more than 300 million people suffer from it, according to the world health organization. It does not discriminate age, but more women than men suffer from it. Within the United States, eating disorders affect more than 30 million people and have the highest mortality rate of all mental illness; one person in the U.S. dies every hour from this disease.
These are shattering statistics. Yara’s moving story about Anna shows us a very loving yet analytical depiction of this immense problem. Eating plans and case notes are juxtaposed with emotional feelings and a desperate desire to be happy in The Girls at 17 Swann Street.
Yara wrote this story to help us understand why eating disorders are misunderstood diseases in society. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, and other disorders are real, prevalent, and lead to tremendous suffering.
Yara has witnessed the suffering of victims and of those who love them: parents, spouses, siblings, and friends struggle to understand and help but usually fail. Yara says, “I saw patients try to explain what was going on in their head, and also fail. “
By entering into Anna’s world, Yara dispels the idea that it’s just a bad habit or about being thin. Those who have it do not choose to, just as one does not choose to have cancer or diabetes. Hopefully, Yara says, readers will find comfort and hope that recovery is possible and so is happiness beyond 17 Swann Street. But, she adds, societal understanding and awareness are key.
To date, words like “poignant, haunting, stunning” are just a few of the adjectives used to describe readers’ reactions to Yara’s new novel.
There’s no telling what the future holds for Yara but, given her involvement with global peace-building organizations like Initiatives of Change (an independent Swiss Foundation), we can expect more extraordinary work from this Hemingway-esque Yara.
As a self-proclaimed lover of all things family, early mornings, and books – not to mention an affinity for rain, tea, travel, yoga, and jazz – Yara will continue to dazzle with her elegant wordsmithing and creative pulse on timely issues. I will forever be impressed by Yara’s fairy-tale heart and sharp mind.
So dear reader, we take you back to Yara’s writing place – a cafe somewhere with soft lights and the sound of light jazz music playing in the background.
If you’re lucky, she’ll invite you to tea by the window and share some of the ideas filling the pages of her tidy notebook.
For now, we are content to share her talent and to call her friend. She is our Maya Angelou and writes about what the world needs most:
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” (Maya Angelou)
Click HERE to purchase Yara’s book and here’s what others are saying about it: