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Let the Swine Go Forth: An International School Satire
By Cynthia Nagrath, TIE Staff Writer 05-Jun-19
In her sophomore novel, Let the Swine Go Forth, former international school teacher Auriel Roe takes us on a hilarious journey into the world of a start-up international school in the fictitious Central Asian Republic of Kebapistan. Along the way, Roe manages to poke fun at just about every institution in international education—from the conferences, the recruiting fairs, the franchised overseas sister schools, and the corporatization of these schools to the ubiquitous acronyms that are part of the international school lexicon and even the lofty mission statements ascribed to each school. All are fodder for Roe’s sarcasm. But Roe saves her most sardonic wit for the educators themselves, creating characters that are caricatures born of their environment, position, culture, or representing an aspect of human nature taken to extremes. A voyeuristic look into a new international school This satirical novel is rich in allegorical characters who embody the worst human impulses, but in Roe’s hands they are comical because of their one-dimensionality and the farcical predicaments in which they find themselves. Despite some crude references, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud throughout this page-turner, which is exactly what Roe intended. Letting the reader in on her inside joke, she guides us on a tour of this dysfunctional international school that, like so many others, is international in name only. Aspiring head of school Our protagonist is the vain and shallow Tristram Randolph, who fancies himself a man of the theatre, and a man of style; his most important decision each day is what to wear. Invested heavily in his designer wardrobe and hair transplants, Randolph believes both have paid off handsomely when he is offered the opportunity to become the head of a new international school that is opening in Diskebapisbad, the capital of Kebapistan. He is to approach the board of his current school, the Swineforth Hospital School in England, where he was formerly the drama teacher but is now relegated to the role of “Head of the International Stream.” As a third-rate boarding school, the international program caters to the dozen or so cast-outs from more prestigious boarding schools across the U.K. The only reason Randolph still has the job is no one else wants to deal with the unruly “foreign tykes”—a job he can barely manage. Intimate interactions at international school conferences The main perk Randolph enjoys as an employee at Swineforth is attending the annual International School Drama Immersion Conference (ISDIC), held in a different capital city each year. This is a chance to have his students put on a performance and, more importantly, allows Randolph and the other teachers the opportunity to mingle. Past ISDIC conferences have proven fruitful venues for romantic encounters, but this one holds even more promise for Randolph when he meets Zara Zoran, the main judge and benefactor of this year’s competition and the daughter of the President of Kebapistan. Randolph finds himself swooning over the President’s daughter, and it’s not just her long legs, blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and striking sense of fashion on par with his own. He is smitten with her diavola red Aston Martin DB5 and all the possibilities he’s imagining. When she invites him home to meet her father, Anomaly Zoran, “Randolph realized he had entered a realm of serious money and was glad he put on his best blazer… He’d never rubbed shoulders with wealth like this before and, frankly, he thought it was long overdue.” Starting an overseas sister school He soon learns that the president and his daughter want an English-style school for their children, grandchildren, and the children of Kebapistan’s elite families. As keen anglophiles, they instruct Randolph that the most important part of the curriculum is to ensure that every child develop an English accent. Despite their reservations about opening a school in a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world, the Swineforth board ultimately decides that the funds infused into the flagging school are well worth the cost of allowing Kebapistan to use the school’s uniform, crest, and the “erstwhile leader of its erstwhile international stream.” The recruiting fair ritual As the novel unfolds, Randolph gets his baptism of fire as Head of School at the Hunts Associates Recruiting Fair, whose motto is “The Hunt is on!” But the pickings are slim at the May fair, as most good recruits have already been hired. Fortunately, only seven teachers are needed for Year One. With his newly acquired gold-rimmed glasses, Randolph feels he has achieved a headmasterly air to go along with some of the educational jargon he’s memorized for his pitch to candidates such as: “We plan to unpack subject explicit direct instruction through the collaborative process.” Roe gives us plenty of laughs at the fair, especially when Randolph encounters a drama teacher he had a fling with at a previous ISDIC conference and entices her with the generous size of his package. Yes, the humor is that bawdy, but the Hunt Associates’ logo—HA!—reminds us it’s OK to chuckle along with such lewd double entendres. A journey worth taking Since it’s prominently depicted on the book’s cover art, there’s no need for a spoiler alert to reveal that each of the teachers, including Randolph, represent one of the seven deadly sins. Even the two local hires are afflicted with envy and greed, along with a Borat-like mentality and speech patterns. The landscape of Kebapistan’s barren deserts and brutalist architecture are the perfect backdrop for Zoran’s brutal dictatorship, which has been ruling the country with an iron fist since the country’s breakaway from the Soviet Union. Roe infuses her narrative with historical references to the Great Game, while Randolph learns that the history of Kebapistan is linked to his own personal history in surprising ways. But revolution is in the air as the Head of School finds himself at the epicenter of a civil war that threatens not just the life of the fledging school, but all those associated with it. There is only one way out for Randolph, and that is delivering the performance of a lifetime. If you decide to take this journey into the world of Kebapistan and the Swineforth Hospital International School, you will be rewarded with a fast-paced novel that’s hard to put down. Holding a funhouse mirror to the international school on the periphery, Roe delivers a distorted, albeit somewhat truthful, window into the goings-on of a new school seeking respectability. Through the distortions, we catch a glimpse of something ugly in ourselves that we need to see.
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