An educational experiment conducted by the Danish government in the 1960s is at the center of Peter Hoeg's second novel to be translated into English. Like his first, the best-seller Smilla's Sense of Snow, Borderliners transcends borders with its intelligent and hypnotic condemnation of a society tragically at odds with its children.
After a lifetime spent in state-run institutions, Peter, a malnourished and abused 14-year-old, is transferred to Biehl's Academy, a private school in Copenhagen with an uncompromising code of discipline. The headmaster is not beyond spying, humiliating, slapping, even beating a child deaf if doing so helps maintain order. Peter is "an odd, backward pupil" who together with another orphan, Katarina, and August, a child who murdered his parents, sets out to learn why "borderliners" like himself—students who are neither well-adjusted nor altogether retarded—are enrolled here.
When first published in Denmark, Borderliners created a controversy when it was revealed that these experiments actually took place. Like a modern Charles Dickens, Hoeg clearly deplores the fate of abandoned children. Capturing their helplessness and frustration, Borderliners would be shocking even if it were not true. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $22)