Kirkus Reviews QR Code
FINDING HIGHER GROUND by Catharine Savage Brosman


A Life of Travels

by Catharine Savage Brosman

Pub Date: May 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-87417-538-0

More essays from Brosman (The Shimmering Maya, 1994), who ranges from travel to literature, solitude to society.

Although most of the pieces previously appeared in journals like American Scholar and Sewanee Review, the collection has been gathered to commemorate the author’s retirement after four decades teaching French language and literature at Tulane. This metaphoric watershed gently guides Brosman’s reflections, which include contemplative entries on her Western roots, her fidelity to her adopted city of New Orleans, European travels, and more jaundiced takes on the contemporary scene. “A House Apart” returns to her grandparents’ home in Denver, where Brosman spent idyllic years being taught self-reliance: “As a child I cared almost nothing for what anyone thought except the family.” She hits the road in essays like “The Immeasurable Sky,” mining the isolated communities and austere beauty of rural Texas and Louisiana for well-realized experiences. When she attends a horse-cutting competition, she comments approvingly, “These families are not dysfunctional, the adolescents not in the streets.” Contrastingly, she relishes the opportunity to drub Aspen’s youthful gliterati for shallowness and hypocrisy upon attending that community’s “Sneaker Ball,” so named because the posh folks sport outlandish sneakers with formal wear. Brosman’s lifelong dedication to French poetry and philosophy informs her essays to positive effect, with references ranging from Rousseau and Voltaire to Sartre and Valéry, and her command of naturalistic detail is strong. Less praiseworthy are the stridently rightist asides reminiscent of Gertrude Himmelfarb, ranging from an expressed distaste for affirmative action in an essay with generally perceptive thoughts on urban race relations (“Getting Along”) to familiar caricatures of “black-shirted, black-trousered, black-cravated French expatriate intellectuals.” These remind us that conservatives and resentful academics also have a vested interest in maintaining the “culture war” they supposedly decry. Perhaps Brosman will find a second career as an aspirational author for the Ann Coulter contingent.

Densely written, polemical, intermittently astute.