"A new kind of landscape writing resonant with the rhythms of landscape painting, and of water as ice, as falls, as torrent, or avalanche, Alpine Apprentice is an unforgettable curation of a moment in time, a journey, an education, and its bordering dreams. In tones stunningly crisp, rapturous, and sure, Sarah Gorham has taken the book-length essay to a place of high art."
—Mary Cappello, author of Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack
"Sarah Gorham has a poet’s eye for detail, a painterly eye for the tableau, an anthropologist’s sense of culture, an ecologist’s nose for the way all things connect, the way the foreign becomes familiar. She brings a beautiful but often harsh Switzerland to life character by character, meal by meal, verb declension by polysyllabic cuss. Plus sex and drugs—she was the kid the grownups all trusted, but she wasn’t always the good girl they thought. Alpine Apprentice is a book of life and love and understanding: funny, poignant, lyrical, sweet, and very smart."
"Reading Alpine Apprentice is like curling under an eiderdown blanket beside an open window with a mountain view. The air is brisk, the atmosphere breathtaking: sentences climb and descend, glide and pivot, move backward and forward at once to capture the formative influence of Switzerland on Gorham’s imagination. With wisdom and charm she explores language, displacement, educational philosophy, moral behavior, and the pleasures—and dangers—of seductive terrain."
—Michele Morano, author of Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain
"Alpine Apprentice is beautifully written, professionally paced, well-managed in alternating sections of narrative and reflection, and enriched with factual materials, lines of investigation, and great visual memorabilia. It is alive, animated by curiosity more than self-centeredness, and the author's decision to broaden the thematic and associative range of materials is entirely well founded. It is a book of sensibility."
—Tony Hoagland, author of Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
"Half a century removed from her experiences at school, [Gorham] is as unflinching with herself and those who helped shape her as she is in describing the foreboding, brutal beauty of the Alps. Even as she wrestles with ambivalence for a place that sends mixed messages about community and control, her affection for the nation and school that were her temporary home is obvious."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
"Interlaced with tidbits about the origin of certain words, food, and practices in Switzerland, as well as a history of the school itself, this is a (short?) collection of literary essays that coalesce into a life experience. Gorham mixes arresting prose and interesting interjections about her years of coming-of-age, which haunt and shape her still today."
"A palpable, loving evocation of experiences 'tucked deep' into the author's soul."
Sarah Gorham recounts her childhood education as a rebellious, insecure, angry girl shipped overseas to a tiny international school perched on a mountain shelf in Bernese-Oberland, Switzerland. There, boot camp style, she experienced deprivation, acute embarrassment, and keen educational guidance, all in the name of growing up. The Swiss landscape influenced her with its paradoxes: unforgiving slopes and peaks; government-controlled hills and valleys—so, too, the languages she’s obliged to learn: one ruffian, the other militaristic.
Though her stay lasted a mere two years, her time there was so crucial in her transition to adulthood that she returns to those years decades later, each and every night in memory and dream. There are brief forays into the science of surviving an avalanche; Sherlock Holmes’s demise at the Reichenbach Falls; the origins of meringue; and the history of homesickness and its spiritual twin, Sehnsucht. In her travels Gorham tracks an adolescent experience both agonizingly familiar and curiously exotic.
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