Shkola dlia durakov [School for Fools]
Sasha Sokolov (1976)

Deborah Hodgkinson, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Shkola dlia durakov [A School for Fools] is a novel in five chapters. It is narrated in the first person by its schizophrenic adolescent hero known only as “student so-and-so”. The action is divided between the eponymous “School for Fools”, the family’s city apartment and, most vividly of all, the suburban dacha settlement where the student’s family own a summer house. The narration is in the form of an inner dialogue between the two halves of his personality (sometimes perfectly coherent, sometimes more stream-of-consciousness) as he describes his impressions in no discernible order, seamlessly mixing memory with speculation recounting conversations, experiences, and long lists of things he sees. The text bursts with youthful energy as the student rides along the settlement paths on his bicycle – off to catch butterflies, shout into empty beer barrels, admire the water-lilies in the river or electric commuter trains passing through the station.

The narration is occasionally interrupted by “the author” who discusses the novel with student so-and-so and periodically takes over the narration:

“Student so-and-so, allow me, the author to interrupt you and tell how I imagine to myself the moment when you receive the long-awaited letter from the Academy, like you, I have a pretty good imagination, I think I can. Of course, go ahead, - he says” (p. 212 – quotations are taken from Carl Proffer’s translation: A School for Fools, Ardis, 1977).

“The author” also seems to have written Chapter 2, a collection of twelve free-standing vignettes which feature the characters and locations of the same dacha settlement.

The novel’s structure is highly complex due to the a-temporal nature of the narration, which spirals out from one episode to another and another, returning perhaps dozens of pages later to the original point of departure. This process may be repeated several times, heading off at a different tangent each time, without the original episode reaching any kind of conclusion. As a result, there is no discernible sequence of events and any sense of “plot” is built up only slowly and retrospectively by the reader.

However, the reading experience – far from being laborious – is made extremely pleasurable by the creative use of language and the unfettered imaginative associations which drive the narration, such as the following stream-of-consciousness inspired by the word “branch” (vetka), which applies to both the branch of the railway, a branch of acacia, and Vetka, the station prostitute:

“sleep sleep branch smelling of creosote wake up in the morning and flower make the profusion of petals bloom in the eyes of the semaphores and dancing in time to your wooden heart laugh in the...

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Published 21 April 2005

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