BOOK REVIEW: Loving my lying, dying cheating husband by Kerstin Pilz

Vivienne Wynter

Author and writing teacher Kerstin Pilz knows how to write a page-turner.

The title gets you excited before the fast-paced tale even opens at the genesis of Pilz’s whirlwind, passionate romance with a sexy, motorbike-riding Italian forensic psychiatrist called Gianni.

Yep, you heard that right. If it wasn’t a memoir, you wouldn’t believe he was real.

Gianni is a larger than life, intriguing character and Pilz has an incredible story to tell of the chaos into which she was plunged during her relationship with him.

A German-born, Queensland based former academic (specialising in Italian studies), Pilz is also a yoga teacher and published travel writer.

She is obviously accomplished and world wise but shows her vulnerability as a lonely woman in her 40s who has just gone through confronting surgery when she meets charismatic Gianni.

Launching from their home in Sydney, the couple travel the world on a long cruise before basing themselves in Far North Queensland’s Mission Beach, one of the most beautiful and tempestuous beach towns in the world.

Much of the story is set in Mission Beach

We know from the title that Gianni is diagnosed with a terminal illness during their marriage.

Astonishing adultery

What we don’t know from the title is whether Kerstin will stay and care for him when she discovers he’s been unfaithful to her, with several women, throughout the few years they’ve been together.

The author’s skilful writing sculpts the story of her response to this discovery into a narrative of hope, humanity and spiritual awakening, threaded in golden strands through a morass of betrayal, narcissism and grief.

Pilz sees her husband’s narcissistic traits and chooses to view them as a mental health condition which makes this story one of insight into the human condition.

Empathetic outlook

Throughout the memoir, we see the good and the struggle to be good in Gianni.

Pilz extends this empathy to her sometimes difficult parents, reflecting on their own harrowing experiences during World War Two.

Piercing through the book are rays of humour, self-effacing honesty and naked vulnerability.

I laughed out loud a couple of times.

Pilz, like many women, makes sense of the way she has been hurt by a man by choosing to be empathetic, rather than combative. She’s still full of rage, pain and grief and seeks to find her way out of the mire by going on spiritual journeys to Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.

Traveling in Asia is a balm for the author’s soul

In this sense, you could call the book an Australian Eat Pray Love, because it’s full of travel and spiritual enlightenment in Asia.

However, Pilz is in many ways, a very Australian voice in her frankness, sensuality and tendency to drown problems in red wine.

There are too many references to burping, farting, vomiting, snoring, orgasms and hangovers for this to be an American style book (what with their prudishness and all).

No rose-coloured glasses

It’s not a rose-coloured story and we hear about how those closest to Pilz disappoint her and how she disappoints them.

There are harrowing accounts of the author becoming an untrained carer and ambulance driver for her critically ill husband and of sheltering in Mission Beach while getting smashed by Cyclone Yasi.

‘The storm is a giant whip, coming down on us in rhythmical lashings, splitting trees, slicing through walls, tearing off roofs as if driven by a diabolical force,’ she writes.

To top it all off she’s going through menopause (so handling all this largely without sleep).

Finding calm through the storms

Through the emotional and physical storms, there are moments of reflection, gratitude and awareness of her privilege as an educated Western woman living in a prosperous country with more resources to cope than most women in the rest of the world.

It’s an exciting read and a well-paced story that pauses to paint vignettes of friends Pilz meets along the way.

There’s Celeste, a new friend in Mission Beach who shows more support in Pilz’s darkest moments than people Pilz has known for much longer.

Shashi is an Indian cooking teacher who remade herself into a prosperous business woman after her husband was poisoned. She calls her students by their country rather than their name.

‘Germany, you stirring curry. Ireland you checking oil for pakora.’

My favourite vignette is of German Anke, the friend who tells it to you straight, even when you don’t want to hear it.

Avoids clichés

You could argue a story of an affluent Western woman discovering herself in Asia is a cliché but Pilz isn’t in this for a floaty woo woo experience of incense, music and flowers.

She does her spiritual apprenticeship hard, sleeping on thin mattresses in freezing concrete cells at mediation retreats, screaming in emotional pain and joining tens of thousands of not always so mindful pilgrims to see the Dalai Lama.

Her unvarnished account of the physical and emotional challenges she encounters during her spiritual quest saves the book from cliché.

Only the hardest of hearts could resist cheering for Pilz as she squeezes every bit of enlightenment she can from the extreme tests and she endures.

Highly recommended.

Loving my lying, dying cheating husband by Kirsten Pilz is published by Affirm Press and retails for $34.99

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