The Idiot by Elif Batuman

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...she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books. Now she’s continued this project in a long and enjoyably literary novel, The Idiot.
-Guardian

Synopsis

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction

"An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down.”
—Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man and It Chooses You 

“Easily the funniest book I’ve read this year.”
GQ

A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.

The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. 
 
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

With superlative emotional and intellectual sensitivity, mordant wit, and pitch-perfect style, Batuman dramatizes the uncertainty of life on the cusp of adulthood. Her prose is a rare and inimitable combination of tenderness and wisdom; its logic as natural and inscrutable as that of memory itself. The Idiot is a heroic yet self-effacing reckoning with the terror and joy of becoming a person in a world that is as intoxicating as it is disquieting. Batuman's fiction is unguarded against both life's affronts and its beauty--and has at its command the complete range of thinking and feeling which they entail.

Named one the best books of the year by Refinery29 Mashable One • Elle Magazine • The New York Times • Bookpage • Vogue • NPR • Buzzfeed The Millions
 

About Elif Batuman

See more books from this Author
Elif Batuman has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for Humor, she also holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University.
Author Residence: New York, New York
Author Hometown: New Jersey
 
Published March 14, 2017 by Penguin Books. 427 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Romance, History, Travel. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Idiot
All: 5 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 3

LA Times

Above average
Reviewed by Dustin Illingworth on Mar 17 2017

For this reader, though, the book’s pleasures come not from the 400-page, low-and-slow smolder of its central relationship, which can at times feel like nothing more than two repressions circling one another; rather, it is Selin herself.

Read Full Review of The Idiot | See more reviews from LA Times

AV Club

Below average
Reviewed by Kelsey McKinney on Mar 13 2017

These almost microfictions work in the creation of Selin’s character, but they do slow down what is an already internally focused book.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Lara Feigel on Jun 16 2017

...she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books. Now she’s continued this project in a long and enjoyably literary novel, The Idiot.

Read Full Review of The Idiot | See more reviews from Guardian

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Richard Warnica on Mar 14 2017

Batuman just has such a distinct eye for both the absurd and the mundane. She conjures this world – sheltered, hyper-smart and off-kilter – so wonderfully. I would listen to her describe almost anything...

Read Full Review of The Idiot | See more reviews from National Post arts

Toronto Star

Below average
Reviewed by Rayyan Al-Shawaf on Apr 01 2017

Unfortunately, the story is devoid of plot. Nor does it qualify as episodic; a series of tightly structured events would have been welcome. Instead, we get a roving look at life at Harvard, followed by a slightly more focused depiction of Selin’s time in Hungary.

Read Full Review of The Idiot | See more reviews from Toronto Star

Reader Rating for The Idiot
71%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 36 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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