THAT SAME FLOWER by Jostein Gaarder


Floria Aemilia's Letter to St. Augustine
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 Again using the device of a text-within-a-text, Norwegian writer Gaarder (The Christmas Mystery, 1996, etc.) presents the story of the woman whom Augustine abandoned when he answered God's call to the celibate life. In a brief introduction, the author describes how he stumbled upon an ancient Latin manuscript in a Buenos Aires bookshop, then bought it, believing it to be the only known letter to Augustine from Floria, his lover and the mother of his son. Written in response to Augustine's Confessions, which she has just read, the letter has the biting tone of a woman scorned, but also the drive of a fearless intellect, one able point by point to poke holes in Augustine's defense of his conversion, wittily wielding the big guns of classical philosophy from Aristotle to Cicero on her own behalf. As Floria coolly dismantles Augustine's faith, showing it to be selfish and contradictory, she doesn't shy away from memories of her former intimacy with him: their first meeting beneath a fig tree in Carthage; the youthful excesses of her ``little itchy- fingered bedfellow''; the interference of Augustine's mother, Monica, who wanted him to marry someone his social equal and who came all the way to Milan to split up the two of them, forcing Floria to leave Augustine and their son and go back to Carthage; and the couple's final meeting in Rome after Monica's death, when a few passionate weeks abruptly ended with the man of God beating his temptress until she bled, then apologizing in tears for his brutality. For all her bitterness, though, Floria also writes with compassion; her judgment, tempered by love and worldliness, never condemns even when discussing their dead son, whom she never saw again after she left Milan. A colorful exercise in breathing life into classical texts, but one that unhappily fails to loose the ties that bind it to the role of commentary, thus falling short of life as a full-fledged work of fiction.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-25384-6
Page count: 180pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997


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