Harvard Square by Andre Aciman
A Novel

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Aciman’s plush prose somewhat blunts the central tensions that drive the book...But “Harvard Square” sings as a portrait of a fleeting friendship, revealing how platonic closeness can have a romantic tinge as well.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

“[Aciman’s] best so far. . . . An existentialist adventure worthy of Kerouac.”—Clancy Martin, New York Times Book Review


André Aciman has been hailed as "the most exciting new fiction writer of the twenty-first century" (New York magazine), a "brilliant chronicler of the disconnect…between who we are and who we wish we might have been" (Wall Street Journal), and a writer of "fiction at its most supremely interesting" (Colm Tóibín). Now, with his third and most ambitious novel, Aciman delivers an elegant and powerful tale of the wages of assimilation—a moving story of an immigrant’s remembered youth and the nearly forgotten costs and sacrifices of becoming an American.

It’s the fall of 1977, and amid the lovely, leafy streets of Cambridge a young Harvard graduate student, a Jew from Egypt, longs more than anything to become an assimilated American and a professor of literature. He spends his days in a pleasant blur of seventeenth-century fiction, but when he meets a brash, charismatic Arab cab driver in a Harvard Square café, everything changes.


Nicknamed Kalashnikov—Kalaj for short—for his machine-gun vitriol, the cab driver roars into the student’s life with his denunciations of the American obsession with "all things jumbo and ersatz"—Twinkies, monster television sets, all-you-can-eat buffets—and his outrageous declarations on love and the art of seduction. The student finds it hard to resist his new friend’s magnetism, and before long he begins to neglect his studies and live a double life: one in the rarified world of Harvard, the other as an exile with Kalaj on the streets of Cambridge. Together they carouse the bars and cafés around Harvard Square, trade intimate accounts of their love affairs, argue about the American dream, and skinny-dip in Walden Pond. But as final exams loom and Kalaj has his license revoked and is threatened with deportation, the student faces the decision of his life: whether to cling to his dream of New World assimilation or risk it all to defend his Old World friend.


Harvard Square is a sexually charged and deeply American novel of identity and aspiration at odds. It is also an unforgettable, moving portrait of an unlikely friendship from one of the finest stylists of our time.

 

About Andre Aciman

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André Aciman is the author of the novels Call Me by Your Name and Eight White Nights, the memoir Out of Egypt, and two books of essays. He is also the editor of The Proust Project. He teaches comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he directs the Writers’ Institute. Aciman lives with his wife and family in New York City.
 
Published April 8, 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. 301 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Harvard Square
All: 4 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 2

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Clancy Martin on May 03 2013

His sentences call to mind the late work of V. S. Naipaul: comfortable, unforced, conversational, unafraid. Aciman uses metaphors sparingly, and when he does, they are striking.

Read Full Review of Harvard Square: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Charles McGrath on Apr 10 2013

If the novel has a weakness it’s the tidiness with which Mr. Aciman wraps everything up, in an ending that’s both sentimental and that suggests the drawback of dwelling too much in places on the page.

Read Full Review of Harvard Square: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by George De Stefano on Apr 08 2013

There are too many instances of the author telling us that the narrator and Kalaj are opposite sides of the same coin, kindred souls yet different; too many reminders that they are sort-of twins, each others’ mirror image, thesis and antithesis.

Read Full Review of Harvard Square: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Mark Athitakis on May 05 2013

Aciman’s plush prose somewhat blunts the central tensions that drive the book...But “Harvard Square” sings as a portrait of a fleeting friendship, revealing how platonic closeness can have a romantic tinge as well.

Read Full Review of Harvard Square: A Novel | See more reviews from Star Tribune

Reader Rating for Harvard Square
65%

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