That Same Flower: Floria Aemilia's Letter to St. Augustine

Jostein Gaarder, Author, Anne Born, Translator Farrar Straus Giroux $18 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-25384-4
Norwegian writer Gaarder's international bestseller, Sophie's World, offered a smorgasbord of philosophical beliefs. Here, the former philosophy teacher weighs in with a much thinner effort. The book's premise--that Gaarder unearths what may be a letter to St. Augustine from his ex-lover, Floria Aemilia, a character in the Confessions--makes poor, predictable use of its ancient conceit, the pagan philosopher's rebuttal to the Christian ascetic. Written after they have lived apart for some years, after their son has died and after Floria has read the Confessions, the letter is a brief for the here-and-now, an argument against the kind of God who would demand abstinence as the price of salvation. Mocking Augustine's otherworldliness and male chauvinism, Floria bolsters her Epicurean arguments for sensual love with citations from Terence, Cicero, Sophocles, Tacitus, Seneca and others, but her barbs (or Gaarder's) fall short of their mark. Augustine, one of history's subtlest, most thoroughly ironic writers, is a poor choice for a straw man. Would that he could reply to this patchwork of anodyne feminism, coy pseudo-scholarly footnotes and hack psychoanalysis (""I felt that you and Monica were bound together by ties that are not natural between mother and son""). Although Floria's arguments are occasionally poignant and witty, it is hard to imagine her as the lover of the fourth-century genius--easier to envision her in the faded clippings of a 1970s Ms. magazine. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
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