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The Idiot by Elif Batuman ⇉ A Twist on the Bildungsroman + Giveaway!!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Books about college life are difficult to come by. A college story with a title that draws to mind a Russian classic and which features multicultural characters? Less so. These elements drew me to The Idiot by Elif Batuman.

The Idiot is the type of novel that I appreciated more as a college student when I wanted to be super intellectual and, like the protagonist Selin, was in the process of discovering my identity.

Despite the use of first person narration, the simple, straightforward narration and intellectual tone gives the reader distance from happenings in the novel. It also suggests that Selin is trying to gain distance and thus a larger perspective on her life. This makes sense given that she is a freshman at a prestigious university and in the process of working through new emotions. She is essentially in a foreign world.

I like how The Idiot features a more intellectual take on college life. It captures the college experience for many students: it encompasses none of the extremes, but there's a sense of falling in a void with no clear way out. Like many students, Selin struggles to find, or create, an exit, and she will eventually come to a conclusion that will make the reader reflect on their own life story up to this point.

What I didn't like so much is partially the result of my own coming-of-age story. Having gone through the college experience, I used to be in a similar position to Selin. I even went through the confusion of first love there (though a couple years later than Selin). The answers I found were very different, and so the last lines of The Idiot felt like a void had opened, sucking in everything that had just taken place and making me wonder what just happened.

While The Idiot didn't end up being for me, it was definitely an interesting reading experience. I can see this novel generating good discussion, especially in circles that have more knowledge and appreciation for the nuances in literary styles and literary influences.

Would I read another work by Elif Batuman? I wouldn't be opposed to it. Batuman is a masterful writer, and I look forward to seeing what she presents to us next!

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.


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Which classic story do you consider a mirror to your own life? (Or, what was your most memorable experience freshman year?)

Publication Info
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Published by Penguin Press
  • On March 14, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 448 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • N/A
  • start

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of The Idiot to give away to one lucky winner on the continental USA!

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