School for Patriots

COVER School patriotsSchool for Patriots
Martín Kohan
2012, Serpent’s Tail
202 pages

THE exaggerated rulebook of a school structured by dictates on such otherwise trivial matters as the length of one’s hair provides a clever backdrop for Martín Kohan’s indirect examination of the worst period of dictatorship in Argentina after 1976. Although not directly about that period – it is set during the Falklands War six years later and avoids a direct historical trajectory – this clever novel is nonetheless about how sexuality and power come together in an authoritarian setting and the risk this poses for those who step outside the parameters of an imposed conformism. The story follows the aspiration of an ambitious teacher María to win the approval of her sinister supervisor Señor Biasutto at the National School of Buenos Aires where staff embody strictly the country’s finest patriotic virtues. The uncompromising Biasutto’s reputation derives from the blacklist of potentially subversive students that he drew up prior to the notorious “Night of the Pencils” in 1976. This refers to a true incident in which a group of high-school students suspected by teachers of being members of a guerrilla cell were rounded up and, mostly, “disappeared”. In School for Patriots, Kohan explores the mundane dynamics of betrayal and how, under the right circumstances, it can represent a protagonist’s effort to escape a dull, quotidian and sexless life. Nick Caistor’s fine translation conveys the intelligent ways in which the author creates suspense in an incongruous setting and rekindles the memories we all have of schooldays discoloured by rigidity and fear. – EC

Latin American Review of Books – Latamrob

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