How two years at a school in the Swiss Alps changed the life of a rebellious teenager.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s, essayist and Sarabande Books editor-in-chief Gorham (Study in Perfect, 2014, etc.) was bullied so mercilessly by her classmates that she thought about suicide. Hurt and angry, she vented her feelings on her four younger sisters, tormenting, teasing, and attacking them. Banished to an attic room, she howled in fury. When her frustrated parents, their patience worn thin, offered to send her to an international school in Switzerland, where she would get “an exotic secondary education,” Gorham leapt at the chance. In her graceful, nostalgic memoir, she recalls traveling alone to the village of Goldern; acclimating to a school where students were awakened by a loud gong in the early hours of the morning to begin their chores; learning German (she picked up the language in 3 months, she reports proudly); and becoming a productive member of a close-knit community. The author discovered at the Ecole d’Humanité a “unique mixture of progressive education and tightly orchestrated environment.” The school was founded by an idealistic couple, Paul Geheeb and his wife, Edith, based on “a single, essential thought: Become who you are.” When faced with any choice, students were encouraged to ask themselves, “who do I want to be?” Although focused on self-reliance, the school nurtured a strong sense of community and responsibility to others. Adults were everywhere, monitoring students’ academic progress and, equally important, their emotional and social growth. Besides portraits of teachers and fellow students, Gorham offers a frothy piece on meringues, a savory recollection of the “beefy, winey rush” of bindenfleisch, and a tense essay about an avalanche that took one student’s life and incited “grief, fear, and anger” among the community. Returning to Goldern as an adult, Gorham broke down in tears, overcome with memories.
A palpable, loving evocation of experiences “tucked deep” into the author’s soul.