Book review: Loving My Lying, Dying, Cheating Husband, Kerstin Pilz

'Till death do us part' is put to the test in this heartbreaking memoir.
Loving My Lying, Dying, Cheating Husband. Image on left is a black and white author headshot of a 40-something white woman with a blonde fringed bob and glasses, and an open necked shirt, smiling at the camera. On the right is a book cover depicting a large blue expanse of the sea and a bird's eye view of a small boat with a white triangular wake coming from it.

As the title suggests, Kerstin Pilz leaves nothing off the table in her memoir about the complexities of commitment.

Kerstin, a single woman in her 40s, falls in love with a tall, dark and handsome Italian named Gianni. He showers her with affection and love-bombs her into accepting a proposal. The couple travel the world, marrying on board a cruise ship within months of meeting. 

Before they marry, there is a constant presence that soon takes precedence in their relationship – Gianni’s illness. The first melanoma is caught early and treated. But then it seems that every time they try to make future plans, illness befalls Gianni and their perfect life together falls apart.

Caring for a loved one until death is accepted as a fundamental part of the commitment made in a wedding contract. Kerstin, for better or for worse, takes this on, letting go of her own life in order to look after her husband.

When Gianni meets Kerstin’s parents, their initial liking towards him soon turns sour. Kerstin’s strained relationship with her mother stops her from hearing the most sound advice in the whole novel: ‘Don’t lose yourself trying to live his life.’

It’s Gianni’s German psychotherapist and medical doctor that is the first to make Kerstin aware that Gianni’s malignant melanoma is a death sentence, and that he also may have narcissistic traits. Kerstin, shocked by the comments, yet again ignores that not everything is as it seems.

Even when his laptop and phone are completely off limits, even when he says in the speech at their wedding how lucky he is to be marrying such a good nurse, she still refuses to see what others see. 

As he grows weaker with illness, she grows weaker too. Weaker to fight back even when she has every right to.

‘You married a man that has cancer. Now deal with it,’ Gianni says.

Kerstin practises Buddhism teachings throughout this time in her life, which seems to be the reason she doesn’t storm out of the door. She allows meditation to melt away her anger and rage.

But finally something clicks when she has to print out medical records from his laptop and finds email exchanges between him and other women.

This would now be the time that Kerstin could release all the anger she has been holding in. Instead, she avoids confrontation by handing him a letter about her knowledge of his infidelity.

There is no guide book to say what is the right and wrong thing to do when your partner contracts cancer. Every marriage is different and only those who are in the partnership can make the difficult decisions when these complex moments in life arise.

But it is heartbreaking to read about a smart, intelligent woman not seeing the signs that she is in an emotional abusive relationship. Kerstin’s husband didn’t choose cancer, but he chose to be unfaithful and she decided against everything to stick it out and help him die gracefully. 

It’s only after this time that Kerstin is able to return to her path in life and find herself again. 

Read: Theatre review: WAY, fortyfivedownstairs

With Kerstin telling her story, it may help other woman face difficult situations such as this. This book has been referred to as the reverse Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, but in many ways it is more comparable to Gilbert’s novel Committed: A Love Story, exploring the complexities of love and marriage. 

Loving My Lying, Dying, Cheating Husband: A memoir of a whirlwind romance gone wrong, Kerstin Pilz
Publisher: Affirm Press
ISBN: 9781923022225
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288 pp
Publication date: 27 February 2024
RRP: $34.99

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.