BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Four by Four by Sara Mesa, translated by Katie Whittemore [in Booklist]

Located in “the now defunct city of Vado” is Wybrany College, “which we pronounce güíbrani colich.” Allegedly founded by a Polish businessman in 1943 to educate exiled orphans, Wybrany has since morphed into an elite boarding school mostly for rich and powerful progeny. The “never more than two hundred” population, however, allows for scholarship students and children of menial staff, albeit segregated and labeled the Specials.

Divided into two sections, along with a dead man’s papers, part 1 belongs predominantly to the children: Celia, a Special who tolerates the Advisor for the promise of visiting her mother; physically challenged Ignacio, whose social standing is eclipsed by new boy Héctor; sickly Teeny, who rejects her domineering mother’s insistence on staying privileged. The adults have their own shenanigans to reveal. Part 2 switches to diary entries written by a man masquerading as a substitute teacher who invents “pedagogical methods” as he observes his perverse colleagues.

Anglophoned by Katie Whittemore (an interview with her follows the novel), Spanish writer Sara Mesa presents a painful exploration of inequity, cruelty, and the immeasurable cost of belonging.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, May 15, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012 (Spain), 2020 (United States)


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