A School for Fools Summary
by Sasha Sokolov

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A School for Fools Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A School for Fools is a fictional autobiographical journey through the mental landscape of a nameless, schizophrenic adolescent, told with the assistance of an author-persona who may be the boy’s older self. Through the kaleidoscopically chaotic prism of the teenager’s schizoid mind, the reader sees incidents reflecting his bizarre perceptions and his attempts to come to terms with the surrounding world.

The boy’s aberration has two primary features: doubling, and the absence of linear time. He perceives himself and several other characters as two distinct but related persons, each with his or her own name. Much of the narrative is either interior dialogue between the two halves of the boy’s mind or interior monologue directed toward unidentified persons. He cannot perceive time, or events in time, in any fixed chronological order. Past, present, and future are random and intermixed. These peculiarities determine the unorthodox form of the novel. There is, in the ordinary sense, no plot. It is replaced by an ever-swirling verbal collage.

The boy’s remembered experiences arise from his relationships with his parents, with residents of their vacation summerhouse community, with his doctor, and with staff members of the “School for Fools” that he attends. His prosecutor father is a caviling misanthrope of the genus Homo soveticus. The boy has spent several periods in a mental institution where he was treated by a Dr. Zauze, who sought to cure him by uniting the two halves of his personality. Allied with Dr. Zauze in the boy’s mind are Perillo, the petty tyrant in charge of the School for Fools, and his deputy, Sheina Trachtenberg, who ominously stalks the school corridors dragging her clubfoot. The threat of being returned to the hospital hangs over his head.

Two other characters, both teachers at the special school, play major roles in the boy’s fantasy life. Like the boy’s family, they own summer cottages near Moscow. The first is Veta Acatova, his biology teacher, whom he loves and fantasizes as his bride. One of the story’s two main, albeit very tenuous, narrative threads is the boy’s imaginary romance with Veta. The second thread involves the boy’s adored geography teacher, the eccentric Pavel (who is also called Savl) Norvegov, who has died at some point in the boy’s school years. Most of the boy’s recalled conversations with him postdate the teacher’s death and are entirely imaginary, as are his conversations with Veta’s father. The two teachers serve as focal points of the disturbed adolescent’s efforts to grasp the fundamental human experiences of sex and death.

Much of the narrative is set within two very long, disjointed, imagined dialogues to which the boy returns again and again. One is with Norvegov, from whom the boy attempts to learn about sex. The other is with Veta Acatova’s father, in which the boy, imagining himself a winter butterfly collector, seeks to apprentice himself to the old entomologist and asks for Veta’s hand in marriage. These imaginary conversations are interspersed with other fantasies, such as the boy’s rendezvous with Veta, and with distorted memories of real events, such as visits to his grandmother’s grave and to his accordion teacher.

The boy’s thought processes and narrative are so chaotic that any outline of events is hazardous. The first chapter, “Nymphea,” opens with the two halves of the boy’s mind arguing over stylistic questions in the description of the...

(The entire section is 872 words.)