Recensione 077 – Old School

giugno 9, 2011 § Lascia un commento

Autore: Tobias Wolff
Titolo: Old School
(Titolo italiano: Quell’anno a scuola)
Edizione: Bloomsbury, 2005
(Edizione italiana: Einaudi, 2005)
Pag.: 208
ISBN: 9780747574651 



A wonderful novel accompanied by yummy toffees



Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election. It tells you something about our school that the prospect of his arrival cooked up more interest than the contest between Nixon and Kennedy, which for most of us was no contest at all. Nixon was a straight arrow and a scold. If he’d been one of us we would have glued his shoes to the floor. Kennedy, though – here was a warrior, an ironist, terse and unhysterical. He had his clothes under control. His wife was a fox. And he read and wrote books, one of which, Why England Slept, was required reading in my honors history seminar. We recognized Kennedy; we could still see in him the boy who would have been a favorite here, roguish and literate, with that almost formal insouciance that both enacted and discounted the fact of his class.

La prima volta che ho sentito parlare di Tobias Wolff è stato quando ho letto, in prestito, la sua raccolta di racconti Proprio quella notte (The Night in Question) nel 2007. Mi è piaciuta davvero molto – stranamente, poichè normalmente non mi piacciono i racconti. Ho messo Old School nella mia wishlist e poi l’ho dimenticato per un po’ finchè quest’anno alla fine non l’ho comprato e letto. Lo stile dell’autore è perfetto: suggestivo, meravigliosamente rifinito, profondo ma non pesante. Il romanzo è strutturato in un modo che ricorda una raccolta di frammenti o di racconti. Non penso che sia un difetto, tranne nel fatto che gli ultimi capitoli (quando l’ambientazione cambia e il protagonista se ne va dalla scuola) sembrano appartenere proprio ad un altro romanzo.

Nonostante le sue piccole imperfezioni, Old School è un romanzo davvero affascinante. Ambientato in una prep school nel New England, racconta la storia di un ragazzo che la frequenta grazie a una borsa di studio. La storia è probabilmente autobiografica, almeno fino a un certo punto, e questo la posizionerebbe tra This Boy’s Life, il resoconto della sua infanzia, e In Pharaoh’s Army, il resoconto della sua esperienza in Vietnam. Il narratore è lo stesso protagonista che, attraverso un flusso di coscienza, racconta tutto sull’esperienza di studiare in una scuola di elite senza appartenere alla stessa elite (ed inoltre essendo ebreo, anche se questa è una cosa che lui nasconde). Per il protagonista e i suoi compagni di classe la letteratura è il centro della vita. Ogni trimestre la scuola invita uno scrittore famoso e gli studenti presentano dei lavori (racconti o poesie) per accaparrarsi un incontro privato con lo scrittore in questione. Robert Frost e Ayn Rand sono due degli autori invitati nell’anno in questione, ma è la prospettiva della visita di Ernest Hemingway che infiamma gli animi degli studenti.

Un vero racconto di formazione radicato nella letturatura e che gira intorno all’inquietudine esistenziale di un ragazzo mentre cerca di scoprire la sua stessa identità e si confronta con i problemi della classe e della razza (per non parlare poi dei primi approcci amorosi!). Raccomandato.

Giudizio: 5/5

The first time I heard about Tobias Wolff was when I read, on loan, his short story collection The Night in Question (Proprio quella notte) in 2007. I like it very very much – strangely, since I don’t like short stories, usually. I put Old School in my wishlist and I almost forgot about it for a while, then this year I bought and read it. The author’s style is perfect: suggestive, beautifully carved, deep but not heavy. The novel is structured in a way that reminds the reader of a collection of fragments or short stories. I don’t think this is a flaw, apart from the fact that the last chapters (when the setting changes and the main character is out of school) seem to belong to another novel entirely.

Notwithstanding its slight imperfections, Old School is a really charming novel. Set in a prep school in the New England area, it tells the story of a young boy, studying there on a scholarship. The story is probably autobiographic, at least to a certain extent, and this would position it between This Boy’s Life, a memoir of his childhood, and In Pharaoh’s Army, a memoir of his Vietnam experience. The narrator is the main character himself who, in a stream of consciousness, tells everything about the experience of studying in an elite school when you are not part of this elite (and moreover, Jewish, even if he conceals it). For the narrator and his classmates literature is the center of life. Every term a famous writer is invited to visit the school and the students are invited to compete for a private audience. Robert Frost and Ayn Rand are two of these visiting authors, but it is the impending visit by Ernest Hemingway that sets the students on fire.

A true coming-of-age novel rooted in literature and revolving around a boy’s existential uneasiness while he tries to discover his own identity and deals with racial and class issues (not to mention first love!). Recommended.

From an interview to the author:

I had no idea what to expect when I was dropped in there. There was this problem of trying to figure out where I was and then how to navigate and even prosper in this world, because I was not used to – how can I put it – the pressures of class. I grew up among working class people and was aware of class as an idea, but how it actually operated in people’s lives was something I knew nothing about. My schoolmates weren’t really snobbish, so it was even more difficult because the question of class was not overt, it was something one only sensed and thus required a lot of vigilance to parse out. Also, we did things to transcend or at least sublimate these anxieties, and one of them, there’s no question about it, was writing, literature. […] It isn’t a memoir but it’s certainly drawn from those years and the situation I found myself in.

Rating: 5/5

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