The Idiot
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.

The Idiot Details

TitleThe Idiot
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 14th, 2017
PublisherPenguin Press
ISBN-139781594205613
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Novels

The Idiot Review

  • Roxane
    January 1, 1970
    This was an interesting novel, dense, unique, written from a very specific point of view. One of those books where I marvel that it was published and am grateful it was published because, I mean, who wants to read the same type of book over and over? As someone who went to college in the 90s, not far from where much of this novel takes place, I felt an unexpected amount of nostalgia for that first year of college where you know nothing but think you know everything and are surrounded by people w This was an interesting novel, dense, unique, written from a very specific point of view. One of those books where I marvel that it was published and am grateful it was published because, I mean, who wants to read the same type of book over and over? As someone who went to college in the 90s, not far from where much of this novel takes place, I felt an unexpected amount of nostalgia for that first year of college where you know nothing but think you know everything and are surrounded by people who know nothing but also think they know everything. This novel is incredibly ambitious. There are levels to this shit. The Idiot is easy to read and really difficult to read. Several times, I thought, “I am not smart enough to understand everything that is happening here,” but I kept reading. So much of the intellectual meandering drove me crazy BUT I couldn't stop reading. This is also an incredibly witty, funny novel. So much sly sly humor and cleverness. Man, this is a writer just showing off just how well she can write. I mean... look: "A student asking a question was sitting in an amazing posture: legs crossed at both the knee and the ankle, arms intertwined, elbows on the desk, fingers knit together, like his whole organic being aspired to be a French cruller."I was absolutely delighted by the delightful moments here, and the impeccable delivery of those moments. Selin is the kind of narrator that could drive a person mad. I kept wanting her to just… get out of her own way but that she didn’t or, perhaps, couldn’t, could well be the point. How many of us were our own worst enemies at nineteen? And Ivan is trash. Utter trash. And the way he was written, to show how terrible and irresistible he was, well, just bravo. The ending is perfect. Oh what last lines. This is one of those novels that is just… utterly brilliant and not in an overt, gratuitous way. Instead, the more I sit with this book, the more it opens itself up to me, revealing the why of it. Like I said, there are levels to this shit.
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  • Jessica Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    2.5/5 Stars.I had a really complicated relationship with this book. On the surface, it appears to have everything I enjoy in a novel—a quirky protagonist, smart insights, dry humor, a character-driven narrative—but if I'm being honest, it was completely tedious and desperate for some more extensive editing.It's a Bildungsroman story about a Turkish-American girl named Selin who begins her freshman year at Harvard University. Selin is awkward, insecure and unprepared for t 2.5/5 Stars.I had a really complicated relationship with this book. On the surface, it appears to have everything I enjoy in a novel—a quirky protagonist, smart insights, dry humor, a character-driven narrative—but if I'm being honest, it was completely tedious and desperate for some more extensive editing.It's a Bildungsroman story about a Turkish-American girl named Selin who begins her freshman year at Harvard University. Selin is awkward, insecure and unprepared for this next part of her life. She meets Ivan, an older Hungarian mathematics major, in one of her classes, and they begin something of a courtship that culminates in her traveling to Hungary that summer to be near him.It's basically a right of passage for a college-age girl to go through that phase where she falls in love with an intellectually exciting but emotionally inept asshole. And Batuman does a really good job of capturing this to the point of nearly painful nostalgic discomfort for readers like myself who have been through that: the coy back and forth, the anxiety of waiting for that next email, the inevitable disappointment just around the corner.Selin is a linguistics major, and so language and communication play a big role in both her internal monologue and her relationship with Ivan. Ivan, and the feelings she has for him, are so obscure and perplexing to her that there's a constant sense of disconnect. Again, this is something that felt familiar to me and reminded me of my own college years.Batuman writes in sharp, incisive prose, and there is clearly a lot of potential in her writing. But I'm not sure how to adequately convey how boring and tedious parts of this book were. We go through every single step of Selin's first year of college and the summer following it, and much of the narrative and dialogue feels completely unnecessary. I skimmed pages and pages of this book because I cared so little about what was happening. I almost bailed on it several times. And then the sky would open and I'd come across a section that I loved. It was a very uneven and frustrating reading experience.I would have given this a solid 2 stars, but it gets an extra .5 for Batuman's obvious talent.
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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    With the abrupt sadness of The Idiot's final sentence, I felt a near-physical wrench, as if forcibly separated from someone who had swiftly become a good friend. I probably read the second half of the book too quickly – I loved it so much, and wish I'd taken more time to savour it – but once I'd started, I just couldn't stop.The eponymous idiot is 18-year-old Harvard freshman Selin (though with all the Russian influences popping up throughout the story, the title is clearly intended to evok With the abrupt sadness of The Idiot's final sentence, I felt a near-physical wrench, as if forcibly separated from someone who had swiftly become a good friend. I probably read the second half of the book too quickly – I loved it so much, and wish I'd taken more time to savour it – but once I'd started, I just couldn't stop.The eponymous idiot is 18-year-old Harvard freshman Selin (though with all the Russian influences popping up throughout the story, the title is clearly intended to evoke Dostoyevsky's masterpiece. Especially as both centre on a figure of extreme naivety, unprepared for 'real' life). It goes without saying that Selin is far from idiotic, but any high school overachiever will recognise the disorientation of being plunged into a university environment and finding your remarkable talents are no longer remarkable, your outstanding intellect is just the norm, and whatever previously made you special now seems childish and insignificant. Of Turkish descent, Selin is surrounded by a truly multicultural, multilingual and multitalented cast of supporting characters, all of whom (she thinks) are better equipped to handle the strange vagaries of adult life and relationships than she is. Repeatedly, Selin experiences a revelation I remember well from that time of my life, and still sometimes get a sense of even now: it seems everyone else has, at some point, mysteriously learned codes of behaviour that remain obscure to her, and which she's unable to internalise just by observing. Selin never really knows what she's doing. Many of her decisions, such as the choice to start learning Russian, and later to teach ESL, are made almost randomly, when she has little idea which path to take. (She does know, instinctively, that she is a writer, but feels doomed, rather than destined, to this fate. She carries the weight of personal note-taking and emailing as though it's a compulsory task, and dissects her thoughts and others' words like they're homework. When a short story of hers wins a prize, she's dismayed: 'I didn’t want anyone to think I thought it was good'.) Central to Selin's development throughout the book is her close, tense, peculiar friendship with Ivan, a slightly older student she meets at the aforementioned Russian class. She becomes infatuated: her decision to spend the summer teaching English in Hungary, his home country, is a result of that.I spent the entire book hoping Selin and Ivan wouldn't get together, hoping Batuman would resist the allure of making good on the will-they-won't-they tension that pervades their interaction. And then I came to the end and found that all along, I had wanted them to be together after all. Their relationship – well, Selin's side of their relationship – reminded me of a quote, attributed to Kurt Cobain, I'm always seeing superimposed across photographs on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr: thank you for the tragedy; I need it for my art. The sense that at this age, a part of you craves the suffering and drama of rejection, because it fits who you feel you are, and because it's easier. If you're an introverted, arty teenager, an outsider, a virgin, then moping and yearning (and writing about it) are what you know; you wouldn't have a clue what to do with reciprocation. Incidentally, with Ivan, Batuman expertly captures the speech patterns of someone who speaks excellent English as a second language; he really does have a palpable voice.THIS is a real coming-of-age story, not all the pulpy crap that gets churned out about 14-year-olds having orgies in the woods or whatever. Selin is so precisely an 18/19-year-old freshman: the perfect mix of naive and sarcastic, rebel and conformist, book-smart and ignorant. I loved her. (There's also something beautiful, and so refreshing, about love remaining unrequited in a narrative like this.) I'd love to quote lots from this book – I feel Selin's words would communicate the charm of the novel far better than I can by talking about it – but of course I can't, for now, because I read an advance copy. Another really important thing about The Idiot that the above probably doesn't communicate at all: I found it hilarious. I honestly choked with laughter at some pages; a couple of times, I became so hysterical that I had to stop reading for a while to calm down. Selin has that dry, witty type of humour that makes the most banal asides into laugh-out-loud lines, and just the way she describes basically anything, the view from a window, the way people look, their voices... oh, man. I can't even explain it. You definitely have to read it.For me, The Idiot was a perfect cocktail: a protagonist in whom I saw myself reflected at every turn of the plot; a particular sense of humour; subtle subversion of tropes I get sick of encountering in fiction. I want to read it again. I need to read it again. I will buy a physical copy when it's published. I will buy copies as gifts for other people, too. It's the sort of book I want to recommend, not by shouting about it to anyone who'll listen, but by seeking out those I know will appreciate it and ardently pressing it upon them.(Supplemental: Christian Lorentzen's fantastic interview with Batuman at Vulture. Her description of rereading stuff you wrote when you were much younger is bang-on. 'When I was younger, the content was embarrassing to me, so I devised a style that was supposed to mitigate it. As an adult, the thing I found most embarrassing was the very style that I thought would mitigate the embarrassing content.')I received an advance review copy of The Idiot from the publisher, Penguin Random House.TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • emma
    January 1, 1970
    Sometimes, I finish a book and I don’t know how I feel about it.This happens a lot of times, in fact. And I have two main strategies for dealing with it. In one, I rate it approximately, confidently say review to come, wait four months (I’m in the midst of a major backlog, okay, I’m not any more a fan of it than you are. In fact I’m probably way less of a fan, because it spares you from having to experience my reviews - a definitively good thing - while it only makes me aware of the Sometimes, I finish a book and I don’t know how I feel about it.This happens a lot of times, in fact. And I have two main strategies for dealing with it. In one, I rate it approximately, confidently say review to come, wait four months (I’m in the midst of a major backlog, okay, I’m not any more a fan of it than you are. In fact I’m probably way less of a fan, because it spares you from having to experience my reviews - a definitively good thing - while it only makes me aware of the fact that I have, like, 100 pages of review-writing ahead of me. And it’s the kind where I can’t remember the book. A true nightmare), then maybe change the rating and post the review.That’s the good method. (Hard as it may be to believe. The standards are low.)The bad method, and the one I employed here, is not even rating it. Not even giving it a temporary rating. Just...leaving it in weird review purgatory.Out of pure laziness and an inability to employ my critical thinking skills.This was a strange book to read, and, true to form, it’s a strange book to review.This is one of those slightly radical literary fiction reads with a unique way of looking at the world and a unique style to match that always end up changing my internal monologue for 7-10 business days.The main reason I don’t read literary fiction (beyond the fact that I spend most of my time reading and trashing YA contemporary) is that, whether I like it or not, I basically live inside it while I’m reading it and for days after.That’s debilitating.For this book, which is sad and intense and basically unsatisfying as a rule, that was nothing short of consistently mildly to severely unpleasant.But I don’t think it’s a bad book, necessarily. I think the writer is very good, and I was fairly consumed by this start to finish. (Obviously.)It’s just...at the end, I was left feeling a bit, well, awful. And I couldn’t figure out what the point of it was - me feeling that way, or the book, or any of it.Not a promising way to feel about a book.Bottom line: I still don’t know any of the answers to any of these questions, so...three stars.---------------well now i'm all melancholy.review to come / rating also to come---------------it is with great sadness and regret that i must inform you...this book stole the working title of my autobiography
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  • Barry Pierce
    January 1, 1970
    I was ready to give up on The Idiot at page 100. There was no distinct plot - nothing major seemed to be happening except for a girl describing her classes at university. But I persisted. Thank god for that.The Idiot is the story of Selin, a student at Harvard in the mid-90s. The mid-90s were strange time to be at university. Selin begins her tale with the line, 'I didn’t know what email was until I got to college.' Batuman is obsessed with liminality, or the state of being in between. Selin's worl/>The I was ready to give up on The Idiot at page 100. There was no distinct plot - nothing major seemed to be happening except for a girl describing her classes at university. But I persisted. Thank god for that.The Idiot is the story of Selin, a student at Harvard in the mid-90s. The mid-90s were strange time to be at university. Selin begins her tale with the line, 'I didn’t know what email was until I got to college.' Batuman is obsessed with liminality, or the state of being in between. Selin's world is moving from analogue to digital, from books to computers, letters to emails. Just as she herself is moving from her teens to adulthood. She, like the world around her, is caught in this liminal space and she is just lost.Enter Ivan: who is the fucking worst. Honestly he's up there with, like, Daniel Quilp in terms of dislikability. Selin falls for this actual rag of a man and all we can do is squirm and fidget as she blindly plays along with his fuckboy antics. But I don't think about Selin or Ivan when I think about The Idiot. What hits me first is Batuman. I don't personally know Elif Batuman, but I do know that we would probably get along quite well. Roxane Gay described this novel as 'dense' and I think that is perfect. Batuman has an incredibly dense prose style, in that she takes her influences and her references and she piles them up onto each other so that each paragraph is like a literary puff pastry. Honestly, I have never used my degree in English and Art History more than when I was reading The Idiot. At one point Batuman states that one characters reminds Selin of what Andre Breton's Nadja might look like. Another time Selin is reading a paragraph from Madame Bovary and she says it reminds her of Björk's video for Human Behaviour. The Unabomber is in there too. It's reference after reference after reference. Batuman knows her shit. And she knows a lot of it. There's probably a hundred other smart asides and sly comparisons that completely went over my head, thus is the nature of her prose. It's a novel that rewards the reader based on their own cultural knowledge. It's like watching an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or 30 Rock, two shows that rely on the viewer's grasp on popular culture. Yeah, you're not gonna get all the references and the gags, but the ones you do catch will make you howl.From wanting to end it all on page 100 to eventually hoping the novel wouldn't finish, my own critical turnaround on The Idiot honestly gave me whiplash. It's a novel that I feel would stand up to multiple readings and each time gleaning something new from it. Or maybe I would read it again and focus more on all the fantastic secondary characters. The Idiot is a superb novel about a woman who is just lost. I mean, she is an idiot. But oh what a wonderful idiot.
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  • Bruno
    January 1, 1970
    NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS. IT'S LIKE KNAUSGÅRD BUT WITH HUNGARIANS.
  • Dea
    January 1, 1970
    I really hate when books with titles like The Idiot make me feel like I’m the person the title is referring to. This book is either really smart or faux smart, and I don’t feel smart enough to figure out which of the two it is (though I’m kind of leaning towards “faux smart” to make myself feel better). Side note: Faux Smart would be an amazing band name. Maybe one word, like Fauxsmart? I expect to be credited in the future debut Fauxsmart album!!!I get the sense that this was written in I really hate when books with titles like The Idiot make me feel like I’m the person the title is referring to. This book is either really smart or faux smart, and I don’t feel smart enough to figure out which of the two it is (though I’m kind of leaning towards “faux smart” to make myself feel better). Side note: Faux Smart would be an amazing band name. Maybe one word, like Fauxsmart? I expect to be credited in the future debut Fauxsmart album!!!I get the sense that this was written in the tradition of some classic author I’ve never read. Influenced by some Russian literature, is my guess? And in a way, I feel left out of the joke, like I just didn’t get it. I wondered if this was supposed to be a sort of modern retelling of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, but I haven’t read that, and the Wikipedia entry on the novel is about as long as Batuman’s The Idiot*, so I’ll remain in the dark.*My joke here is that Batuman’s The Idiot is too long. Because it is.Batuman is genuinely funny, though, and there are some particularly poignant thoughts and ideas to be found in this book. I’m not sure who to recommend this to—Harvard grads? People who like to make fun of academia? People who don’t like to make fun of academia? Linguists? I’m none of these things, and so ultimately The Idiot just isn’t for me. This has a lot of elements that will appeal to other readers (girl falls in love, girl travels the world, girl is confused about who she is and what she does, girl meets interesting people in interesting places, etc.) but none of this really meant anything to me.[This reminds me a bit of Rebecca Harrington’s Penelope (another Harvard story about awkward teenagers who have difficulty communicating) but Batuman’s The Idiot is the more intellectual of the two.]Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the e-galley.
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  • BlackOxford
    January 1, 1970
    Facebook BoundI knew I should have kept a diary after I left secondary school. Not that I had experienced anything extraordinary in my young adulthood, but it could have proved useful for writerly gaps in later life. On the other hand if my diary was as tedious and banal as Batuman’s, I would have destroyed it as an embarrassing mistake.To say that The Idiot is pointless might sound severe. Batuman writes grammatical sentences and believable dialogue. But the sentences and dialog Facebook BoundI knew I should have kept a diary after I left secondary school. Not that I had experienced anything extraordinary in my young adulthood, but it could have proved useful for writerly gaps in later life. On the other hand if my diary was as tedious and banal as Batuman’s, I would have destroyed it as an embarrassing mistake.To say that The Idiot is pointless might sound severe. Batuman writes grammatical sentences and believable dialogue. But the sentences and dialogue drone on endlessly about whatever happened to be around in her young adult life. I suppose that someone of a similar age, perhaps embarking on an educational adventure like Harvard and experiencing Paris for the first time, would find The Idiot instructive and even interesting. For anyone else the autobiographical detail is likely to be as enthralling as a 19th century cookbook.It did just strike me however: Perhaps Batuman is more important than I realize. Forget the old fashioned idea of the diary. What’s she’s done is to take a few years worth of anticipatory Facebook or Instagram posts and turned them into a book. So perhaps ‘welcome’ to a new genre. Please don’t let it be...
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    (3.5) This is such an odd debut novel that, though I ultimately thought it a very funny anti-Bildungsroman, I’d hesitate to recommend it too widely. Nostalgia for pre-technology college days, some familiarity with Eastern European literature (especially the absurdist tradition), and a fascination with linguistic theory and foreign languages would be good prerequisites for enjoying this – but then again, none of those criteria are quite valid for me.In brief, this is Selin’s account of her (3.5) This is such an odd debut novel that, though I ultimately thought it a very funny anti-Bildungsroman, I’d hesitate to recommend it too widely. Nostalgia for pre-technology college days, some familiarity with Eastern European literature (especially the absurdist tradition), and a fascination with linguistic theory and foreign languages would be good prerequisites for enjoying this – but then again, none of those criteria are quite valid for me.In brief, this is Selin’s account of her freshman year at Harvard (c. 1995) and the summer of travel in Paris, Hungary and Turkey that follows. A daughter of Turkish immigrants, she wants to become a writer, but even as she minutely records every happening and thought of her year she doubts the point. Is she learning anything from her experiences? In her Russian and linguistics classes, in her interactions with her roommates and her Serbian friend Svetlana, and in her growing obsession with Ivan, a senior math major from Hungary, she includes a surprisingly Knausgaardian amount of mundane detail yet always remains at an emotional distance from events.The tone is so very deadpan that you may never warm to Selin. However, it feels appropriate for what the novel is attempting: a commentary on the difficulty of having real, meaningful conversations when language breakdown is rife. Again and again Selin fails to connect with others, whether it’s because her Spanish-speaking ESL tutee simply can’t put together an English sentence or because she and Ivan keep mishearing each other. With so little faith in the power of individual words, how can she possibly hold out hope for a coherent narrative for her entire life? It’s important to remember, of course, that this takes place in the early days of e-mail and long before smartphones, which I think makes it even more potent by extension to today – we think we’re more connected than ever, but does our technology really make it any more likely that we’re engaging in significant discussions and relationships?Once again Batuman has borrowed a Dostoevsky title (her 2010 memoir, about reading the Russian masters, was called The Possessed), and I suspect her novel is in heavy debt to Russian fiction in general. I’m not familiar enough with Eastern European literature to make sweeping statements, but something about the randomness of the novel’s events and the way they are bluntly recounted rather than explained made me think of Kafka. This can be problematic for the story line, though: it feels like things keep happening that serve no purpose in the grand scheme of the novel.That’s why I call this an anti-Bildungsroman: Batuman is subverting the whole idea of a simple coming-of-age trajectory. At the same time, she does convincingly capture what it’s like to be young and confused about what you should be doing: “I couldn’t imagine how I was going to dispose of my body in space and time, every minute of every day, for the rest of my life … Just being alive felt like some incredibly long card game where you didn’t know if the point was to get cards or lose them, or what you had to do to get cards or lose them.” This reminded me of elements of my college years and study abroad experience; the familiarity plus the off-the-wall humor kept me reading with interest, even though this is a very long novel and not traditionally satisfying in terms of plot.Sample lines:“What was ‘Cinderella,’ if not an allegory for the fundamental unhappiness of shoe shopping?”“One afternoon in the library, I picked up Pablo Neruda’s ‘Ode to an Atom’ and started to read. There were words I didn’t know, but I didn’t slow down. I just guessed the meaning, or a meaning, and kept going, and I saw then that Ivan was right: it was exciting not to understand. What you did understand was exciting.”(On a plane) “I opened the foil lid and looked at the American meal. I couldn’t tell what it was. The man in the seat ahead of me started tossing and turning. His pillow fell into my dessert. The pink whipped foam formed meaningful-looking patterns on the white fabric. I saw a bird—that meant travel.” “At first it seemed strange to me to go into a supply closet every day with a fourteen-year-old boy and eat a three-course meal, but soon I came to view it as part of the natural course of things.”“We sat at the table. Margit and Mrs. Nagy chatted in Hungarian, Zoltán, whose pallor, small head, and straight black hair made him resemble an Edward Gorey drawing, stared at the floor. I mechanically ate the pretzel sticks Margit had set out, like it was a job someone had given me.”“Spiderwebs attached themselves, like long trails of agglutinative suffixes, onto our arms and faces.”
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  • Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
    January 1, 1970
    Library Overdrive Audiobook....read by the author Elif BatumanI loved this book. I equally adored Elif Batuman’s seductively-innocent-child-sounding voice. I had no idea what to expect. The first time I looked at this book was a few weeks ago when in San Francisco with a Goodreads friends in Citylights book store. I still haven’t read any reviews- all I knew was that this was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Who doesn’t remember their freshman year of college - if you w Library Overdrive Audiobook....read by the author Elif BatumanI loved this book. I equally adored Elif Batuman’s seductively-innocent-child-sounding voice. I had no idea what to expect. The first time I looked at this book was a few weeks ago when in San Francisco with a Goodreads friends in Citylights book store. I still haven’t read any reviews- all I knew was that this was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Who doesn’t remember their freshman year of college - if you went? And travel if you did as a young adult? And college romance? An emails when they were SO NEW? I thought this book was absolutely charming - funny - ADORABLE- kickass sassy-smart- reflective -and very ordinary and simple and the best of ways!!!!
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    I suppose it's appropriate that one of the recurring themes in Elif Batuman's The Idiot is the sensation of being trapped – in conversation, in a situation, in a location. Because about two-thirds of the way through this frustrating and tedious novel, I realized I too was trapped – too curious to simply jettison the story, all too aware that the plot was heading into ever more stagnant territory. In the end, I couldn't help but feel that the title, although ostensibly a reference to the Dostoyevsky c I suppose it's appropriate that one of the recurring themes in Elif Batuman's The Idiot is the sensation of being trapped – in conversation, in a situation, in a location. Because about two-thirds of the way through this frustrating and tedious novel, I realized I too was trapped – too curious to simply jettison the story, all too aware that the plot was heading into ever more stagnant territory. In the end, I couldn't help but feel that the title, although ostensibly a reference to the Dostoyevsky classic, was actually referring to me.It wasn't all bad. The first third of the book was actually pretty great, whether because of my own nostalgia for my freshman year of college (or maybe my nostalgia for Rory Gilmore's freshman year of college) or because Batuman successfully blended a dry wit with a quirky character to create what appeared to be a winning tale of a girl coming of age and falling in love. Instead, Selin's relationship with Ivan grows, she becomes duller and so does the story. To be honest, the conceit is somewhat realistic: Selin has a male friend who is much more interesting and more suited for her, but she can't help obsessing over the self-absorbed and off-putting older guy, eventually traveling to Hungary to teach English so she can see him on the weekends. But once the story left Harvard, all traces of what made me get invested in it disappeared, and I was left slogging through a swamp of mundane details and dull conversations, each step forward making me wish I had closed the book when I had the chance. By the end, I had progressed to actively hating everyone in the book yet I was still forcing myself to get to the end: the idiot, indeed.
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  • Helene Jeppesen
    January 1, 1970
    Wow! I admit I was a bit sceptical going into this book because it’s a novel that seems to split the waters. But I LOVED it! “The Idiot” is a coming-of-age story (a genre that I love) that speaks to my linguistic heart. We follow Selin who starts at Harvard college as a student of language, and we get to be inside her head when she observes the world, the people around her, the language they use, and the culture they come from. It feels like we are living inside a bubble with her that doesn’t re Wow! I admit I was a bit sceptical going into this book because it’s a novel that seems to split the waters. But I LOVED it! “The Idiot” is a coming-of-age story (a genre that I love) that speaks to my linguistic heart. We follow Selin who starts at Harvard college as a student of language, and we get to be inside her head when she observes the world, the people around her, the language they use, and the culture they come from. It feels like we are living inside a bubble with her that doesn’t really allows for Selin to fully connect with the outside world, and oftentimes she comes across as quite ‘the idiot’.I am a language teacher and love all nuances of language as well as cultures. When Selin made references to static verbs, wondered about idioms and their meaning, tried to find connections between Turkish and Hungarian (and English), I was engrossed and completely fascinated. The author, Elif Batuman, also makes sure to connect these observations cleverly so that they reappear randomly in the novel, but in relation to a story that makes sense. The romance part of this book was very fascinating and unlike anything I’ve ever read before - this actually goes for all of the novel. The very last page (and paragraph) was surprising, and I’m still considering what to make of that; but all in all this was such an original and refreshing story that I can’t help but absolutely love it.
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    Part of my warm feelings to this book must be because the author is reflecting so much of my own experience, that era (95-96) of life-changing technology and the normalization of the internet right at the gateway to college, with suddenly changing relationships and interactions, especially how email changed flirtations! "I began to feel that I was living two lives - one consisting of emails with Ivan, the other consisting of school."Selin is the main character, a Turkish American studying linguistics at Harv Part of my warm feelings to this book must be because the author is reflecting so much of my own experience, that era (95-96) of life-changing technology and the normalization of the internet right at the gateway to college, with suddenly changing relationships and interactions, especially how email changed flirtations! "I began to feel that I was living two lives - one consisting of emails with Ivan, the other consisting of school."Selin is the main character, a Turkish American studying linguistics at Harvard. She is very smart, but very inexperienced in relationships. I loved how everything she learned in the classroom because filtered through the experiences she was having. Much of the writing makes me think back to the days when everyone was on LiveJournal, writing long entries about trivial events of their days. But in those days, we found a lot of meaning in sharing so much of our lives. I felt like the first half of the novel in particular captured this feeling, this mode-of-communicating, that we have moved on from as we have turned to short blasts of clever phrases or photos. There is less room for connection between people and ideas, in my opinion. So parts of this were absolutely indulgent for me. I am making this caveat clear because I am not sure, without this shared experience, that this novel would be as good for another reader. I was less thrilled with where the novel went, as soon as Ivan arranged for Selin to teach English in Hungary. Then it became a novel about things happening, and much of the deeper thinking and navel-gazing went away. I liked the ending, but it could have been longer.I listened to the audio, read by the author, and I loved her wry tone. I may have caught the humor in the print but it was particularly clear in her voice. I found myself laughing at some of her side comments and descriptions. If she also read her previous book, I would probably go read it.Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the audio in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    DNF at around 70 % of the audiobook - I rarely DNF books, but I am so bored right now that I am starting to get aggressive, and we don't want that, do we? :-) Let's try to give a fair account of what this book is about: Selin is a freshman at Harvard, she tries to find her own path in life and her search strategy is highly influenced by the things she learns about language at school. Batuman is trying to bring together linguistic/literary theory and its application in everyday life when she desc DNF at around 70 % of the audiobook - I rarely DNF books, but I am so bored right now that I am starting to get aggressive, and we don't want that, do we? :-) Let's try to give a fair account of what this book is about: Selin is a freshman at Harvard, she tries to find her own path in life and her search strategy is highly influenced by the things she learns about language at school. Batuman is trying to bring together linguistic/literary theory and its application in everyday life when she describes Selin's struggles to figure out what is going on, who she is, and what life means. There is also a guy whom Selin likes more than he likes her, and there is a journey to Europe. Oh yes: Selin (who also speaks Turkish) learns Russian, and the book's title is of course a nod to Fyodor Dostoyevsky.Now on to the reasons why I feel unable to continue with this: Selin is an Ivy League student who does not need to hold down a job, has zero problems in life and seems to spend all day reading fun texts and thinking about, yes, herself. Still, she is pretentiously suffering from disorientation. Get a life, Selin, your #firstworldproblems are a bore. Full disclosure: I never had much sympathy for people who seem to want to crawl back to their high school (and mommy), because, like, college is, like, so hard and stuff. It's not. College is a privilege, so grow up and get over yourself. It's a mystery to me how Selin can have so little fun there without any apparent reason (because, as some people claim, she realizes that it's a place full of other smart people? Who wants to be surrounded by morons??).Other reviewers said that they liked how Batuman describes the rise of new media that coincides with Selin starting college. I am too young to judge that, so maybe what I say now is a little unfair, but the whole "OMG, it's the 90's and I don't know what e-mail is"-schtick just made me sigh. Batuman's love for the intricate and lengthy description of irrelevant details also felt slightly torturous to me.All in all, this book did not have anything to say to me. As German punk rock drummer Bela B. once stated: "There's nothing worse than whiny rockstars." Maybe there is: Whiny Harvard freshmen.
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  • Julie Ehlers
    January 1, 1970
    The Idiot is a hard book to review, because everything about it comes down to personal taste. There's no plot or narrative arc to speak of—the book just follows our narrator, 18-year-old Selin, as she goes through her first year of college and a summer abroad. We hear about everything that happens to her, and especially everything she thinks about. So even if the lack of plot doesn't bother you, it still really comes down to whether you enjoy being in Selin's company. I can speak only for myself when The Idiot is a hard book to review, because everything about it comes down to personal taste. There's no plot or narrative arc to speak of—the book just follows our narrator, 18-year-old Selin, as she goes through her first year of college and a summer abroad. We hear about everything that happens to her, and especially everything she thinks about. So even if the lack of plot doesn't bother you, it still really comes down to whether you enjoy being in Selin's company. I can speak only for myself when I say the answer to that is a resounding yes: I thought Selin was HILARIOUS and I laughed out loud far more than I ever thought I would. I had a busy October and it took me a while to finish this, but I was still happy every time I got a chance to pick it up and rejoin the world of Selin, her awesome friend Svetlana, and the enigmatic Ivan.When I finished The Idiot I was wavering between 4 and 5 stars, but now that I've had some time to contemplate, 5 stars is a no-brainer. The fact is, Selin is really naive and inexperienced, and occasionally I got annoyed with her, but every time I did I remembered that I was pretty much exactly the same way when I was her age. I realize not everyone is similar to Selin and me, but from my perspective her portrayal was so spot-on that I didn't just identify with it—I admired it. Also, in this day and age it's a major feat to write a 500-page, interior novel all from one character's perspective. I get so tired of the whole "I'm using multiple narrators not because it's necessary but because I am not skilled enough to sustain a narrative from one person's viewpoint" epidemic among writers these days. Give me one distinctive voice I can sink into and I will be a happy camper. And with this novel, I was.Again, personal taste is a strong factor when it comes to The Idiot. I understand not liking this because of the lack of plot, or because of an unwillingness to hang out with a Harvard freshman for 500 pages. But I have to admit I can't understand the reviews that criticize Selin as a person, for being naive or clueless or a drag. Did all of you have everything figured out at 18??? If so, go hang out at the cool kids' table, I guess. As for me, I'll be over here in the corner with Selin, misreading everything everyone else says and does, and waiting impatiently for the sequel.Edited to add: The Idiot is the third book in my 2018 Read Like Greta project.
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  • Michael Ferro
    January 1, 1970
    This novel is a slow burn, but it's a pleasant warmth—not a scorching fire of excitement. But it's not meant to be either. Batuman has delivered a delightful, excruciatingly smart work of literary fiction that so perfectly captures the confusion of young love. For anyone who has ever felt "different," or a bit separated from a common reality, THE IDIOT is in your wheelhouse. Batuman is a writer's writer, giving us what our brain craves and doesn't waste our time with the cheap thrills that other This novel is a slow burn, but it's a pleasant warmth—not a scorching fire of excitement. But it's not meant to be either. Batuman has delivered a delightful, excruciatingly smart work of literary fiction that so perfectly captures the confusion of young love. For anyone who has ever felt "different," or a bit separated from a common reality, THE IDIOT is in your wheelhouse. Batuman is a writer's writer, giving us what our brain craves and doesn't waste our time with the cheap thrills that others demand in order to turn the page. Instead, her sentences are stark and beautiful. The narrator's thoughts are unfiltered, raw, and often downright hilarious. It's a long story, and though you may not always be sure where it's going, you eventually come to a worthwhile conclusion. It's hard to ask for more from a very promising young talent.
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  • Alice Lippart
    January 1, 1970
    I feel like most of this book just went completely over my head. I don't get it :)
  • Gumble's Yard
    January 1, 1970
    [Svetelena said] I lived by aesthetic principles, whereas she, who had been raised on Western philosophy, was doomed to live boringly be ethical principles. It had never occurred to me to think of aesthetics and ethics as opposites. I thought ethics were aesthetic. “Ethics” meant the golden rule, which was basically an aesthetic rule. That’s why it was called “golden” like the golden ratio. “Isn’t that why you don’t cheat or steal – because it’s ugly” I said I read this novel due to its longlisting [Svetelena said] I lived by aesthetic principles, whereas she, who had been raised on Western philosophy, was doomed to live boringly be ethical principles. It had never occurred to me to think of aesthetics and ethics as opposites. I thought ethics were aesthetic. “Ethics” meant the golden rule, which was basically an aesthetic rule. That’s why it was called “golden” like the golden ratio. “Isn’t that why you don’t cheat or steal – because it’s ugly” I said I read this novel due to its longlisting for the 2018 Women’s Prize for fiction - and am delighted it has now been shortlisted.The book is told in the first person by Selin, a Turkish-descended American starting as a freshman at Harvard in the mid 1990s and tracing her first year and first summer vacation there, particularly her unrequited relationship with Ivan (a graduating Hungarian mathematician). This is a coming of age story – capturing almost perfectly the transition from home and school to University, including at a world leading University like Harvard suddenly realising that your hitherto outstanding achievements are now par for the course (Selin for example shocked when she does not make the college orchestra).Selim is hopelessly naïve – both about the way Ivan is playing with her affections and around the conventions of student life which she initially struggles to recognise and then struggles to comprehend when she does recognise them – be that drinking alcohol, going to a coffee shop, buying clichéd posters of Einstein for her shared room, or for example when dancing in a group at a disco [it] reminded me of pre-school where you also had to stand in a circle and clap your hands. I began to intuit dimly why people drank when they went dancing and it occurred to me that maybe the reason preschool had felt the way it had was that one had to go through the whole think sober” This revealing interview with the author captures I think perfectly what she was aiming for in the book – a book about awkward, embarrassing experiences which is a picture of a really young person who is well-equipped in certain ways and not well-equipped in other wayhttp://www.vulture.com/2017/03/elif-b...Ivan and Selin meet in a Russian class – and language is another key theme of the novel.Selin is fascinated by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which states that the structure of a language determines a native speaker's perception and categorization of experience (or as Selin puts it the language you spoke affected how you processed reality). She spends much of the book either learning another language (Russian in the first part, Hungarian in the second part) or teaching English as a second language (initially as a volunteer activity in a housing project and in the second half of the novel over the Summer in a Hungarian village). The similarities and differences between, and the linguistic quirks of Turkish, Hungarian and Russian (as well as Serbo-Croat which is spoken by another member of the Russian class – Svetlana) are examined throughout the book – including for example the influence or Turkish on Hungarian and Serbo-Croat dating from the Ottoman occupation of the countries.Selin is also a literature buff – and always seems to be trying to relate her experiences to literature. Mathematics also makes an appearance – as Selin frustrated with her ESL attempts at Harvard teaches mathematics in the project instead. If any of the the above makes the book sound heavyweight it is anything but, the writing is playful and humorous. There is a wonderful moment when walking to the gym, Selin is greeted by a throwaway How’s it going from a casual acquaintance and makes to answer, causing the guy, Selin and Svetlana to wait for what felt like hours before Selin simply walks off without a word – basically all because Selin cannot think of a non-conventional way to answer the question – a perfect example of what the author describes in the interview as Selin’s dilemma whether you can be sincere without being pretentious. It’s something Selin thinks about a lot. It’s like there are two poles: one is being totally lucid but not conveying anything, just stating completely obvious things, and the other is being completely impenetrable. Sometimes you have to risk going one way or the other. Selin decides she would rather risk being impenetrable than being obvious and lame. Selim, via Batuman, has a lovely ear for a phrase or description: patches of overgrown grass [in a run-down housing project] resembled a comb-over on the head of a bald person who didn’t want to see reality; an angel cake she is cooking fell down in the middle like a collapsing civilisation” and becomes a fallen-angel cake. She over-analyses everything, and spends time inappropriately parsing things around her – for example when watching The Sound of Music with her mother: I was interested when the nuns sang about solving a problem like Maria. It seemed that “Maria” was actually a problem they had – that it was a code word for something Often to the detriment of the subjects she is meant to be studying (for example when suffering with a cold in an academic interview): “Right” I said, nodding energetically and trying to determine whether any of the rectangles in my peripheral vision was a box of tissues. Unfortunately, they were all books. The professor was talking about the differences between creative and academic writing. I kept nodding. I was thinking about the structural equivalence between a tissue box: both consisted of slips of white paper in cardboard case; yet – and this was ironic – was there was very little functional equivalence, especially if the book wasn’t yours. Those were the kinds of things I thought about all the time, even though they were neither pleasant or useful. I had no idea what you were supposed to be thinking about. The Russian language is taught via a serialised story “Nina in Siberia” – a stitled and rather preposterous story (at least to this reader) which at each chapter only uses the grammar taught in the class to date, resulting in some tortuous terminology, but one which Selin invests in hugely “while you were reading it you felt totally inside its world, a world where reality mirrored the grammar constraints, and what Slavic 101 couldn’t name didn’t exist” (clearly her applying the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). Much of the story (reproduced through the first part of the book) is around Nina’s thwarted relationship with an Ivan – and it is hard not to see that Nina’s interest in the story is mirrored by her interest in the real-life Ivan (or possibly vice-versa) leading to a great line when the story ends happily (albeit with each of Ivan and Nina finding happiness elsewhere). Why did every story have to end with marriage? You expected that from Bleak House or Crime and Punishment. But “Nina in Siberia” had seemed different. Of everything I had read that semester, it alone had seemed to speak to me directly, to promise to reveal something about the relationship between language and the world A number of other aspects I enjoyed – many of which reminded me of University:Selin muses on a Nabakov quote that “mathematics transcended their initial condition and thinks how each of solid cone geometry, trigonometry, and Fibonacci sequences were set up as pure theoretical concepts but turned out, centuries later, to describe reality, respectively relating to planetary orbits, sound waves and seed spirals in a sunflower – leading her to speculate what if math turned out to explain how everything worked – not just physics but everything – something I can imagine discussing myself at University (other than adding back the s to change the American to the British abbreviation for the queen of sciences and purest form of art).Discussions of pre-destination against free-will –something I remember discussing in detail with my friends at University, albeit with more of a religious aspect than the scientific/philosophical discussion here. For example the way she feels “staring at the green cursor on the black screen, trying to compose an email to Ivan – I had nothing but free will. The thought that it might be limited in some way made me feel only relief”. After playing squash the blue rubber ball was so small, so fast, so crazy. To think that the world was too deterministic for some peopleA discussion about the inherent inconsistencies in the imaginary world created by Bram Stoker for Dracula, and her surprise in finding he studied pure mathematics and how weird it was that a mathematician had created such an internally inconsistent worldA discussion about the contradiction between how US teachers claimed they wanted pupils to learn (and indeed how they tried to teach them) and how they subsequently examined them – I don’t want you memorize and regurgitate, I want you to understand the elegant logic of each mechanism”. Nonetheless on the test you had to draw the diagram of RNA transcription – which reminded me of the Professional Exams I took post University.Which in turn leads on to the assertion that in many subjects Reason only got you so far. Even if each step followed from the previous one, you still had to memorize the first step, and also the rule for how stops followed from each other – which reminded me of the surprising amount of revision and learning involved in studying Pure Mathematics at University.So overall I have to say that I enjoyed this book hugely. It reminded me of a female (both in author and first person narrator) version of The Nix – and this resemblance was magnified both due to the number of times I laughed out loud when reading it, and the copious number of post it notes I placed in the book for passages or quotes I wanted to use in my review.However I went into it with very low expectations as many of those I most respected on Goodreads really hated it (even some who loves The Nix) – and I can understand why this book may not appeal to others which leads to my last quote which may also serve as an apology if you have not enjoyed my review: It was decreasingly possible to imagine explaining it to anyone. Whoever it was would jump out of a window from boredom. And yet there I was watching the accumulation in real time, and not only was I not bored, but it was all I could think about
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    This hit the spot for me, but I absolutely see why it has driven other people nuts. Video review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwIt-...
  • Tulay
    January 1, 1970
    After listening this book, had to think about it long and hard before writing a review. First of all only reason I wanted to read was author is a daughter of Turkish parents. Places she was visiting was exciting places I would love to visit or lived in. But this book is definitely for twenty something age group, just going to university and discovering what life is about.
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  • may ❀
    January 1, 1970
    i,,,,,,,,,do not know what i just readthis book is really weird bc i know its meant to be written in a 'stream-of-conscious' type of narrative that is supposed to be limitless and all over the place and yet i hate it. i know it's supposed to be all existentialist and deeply moving and profound bc it makes no sense and apparently that's supposed to be a reflection & commentary on the ~meaning of life and such (this is what all the ~fancy professional literature people~ tried to make me believe),,,,,which i total i,,,,,,,,,do not know what i just readthis book is really weird bc i know its meant to be written in a 'stream-of-conscious' type of narrative that is supposed to be limitless and all over the place and yet i hate it. i know it's supposed to be all existentialist and deeply moving and profound bc it makes no sense and apparently that's supposed to be a reflection & commentary on the ~meaning of life and such (this is what all the ~fancy professional literature people~ tried to make me believe),,,,,which i totally DON'T agree with. maybe selin's life would be more interesting and momentous if she, say,,,,,,,,,,,took up a hobby or something idk my dude but obsessing over a guy ain't itis this book her journal, is this her brain, what is happening, why am i getting every little thought she thinks and hearing every little bit of life she experiences, i really dont want thisand sis, if you're whole life is going to revolve around a boi, can he at least have more personality than a limp piece of unseasoned asparagus??? i just, am really concerned let me show you a bit of the conversation that took place in this book:"This is Selin, who I told you about," he told her."What?" she said."Selin," he repeated, "this is Selin.""Nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand."Oh!" she said.I briefly held a small, cold, unenthusiastic object."I talked to Vogel," the girl told Ivan, retrieving her hand."Oh, really?" said Ivan."They're giving me money, for the Chinese thing.""What?""For the Chinese thing, they're giving me twenty-five hundred dollars. But I'm not sure if I should do it.""Uh-huh""It's so boring""Yeah, you shouldn't be like that.""What?""You shouldn't do those things that bore you.""But I need the money."They talked for a while about the twenty-five hundred dollars and the mysterious, boring Chinese thing that she didn't want to do."Can't you just take the money?" Ivan was saying."What?""Can't you take the money and not do it?""Of course not."He shrugged. "Well, it's better than shoveling snow.""I know," she said."THAT'S HOW CONVERSATION TOOK PLACE THROUGHOUT THE BOOK SOMEONE SAVE MEhonestly i feel like i've wasted 13 hours listening to this audiobook. 13 Whole Hours i will never get back (okay, not entirely true bc i listen on 2x speed but understand the dramatics plz)all the characters felt like they had no personality and didn't exist on any plane of earth besides selin's head and im just so, so tiredgosh, im glad this is over
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    The Idiot is a book you either click with or you don't. I absolutely understand why some readers have found it maddening. I can't recall the last book I read where less happened than it did here, which, considering that it's nearly a five-hundred page book, is kind of a triumph in its own right. But I got along with The Idiot splendidly.This is quiet, sparse, cerebral, philosophical, surprisingly humorous account of a Turkish-American girl's first year at Harvard. In one of her Russian classes she The Idiot is a book you either click with or you don't. I absolutely understand why some readers have found it maddening. I can't recall the last book I read where less happened than it did here, which, considering that it's nearly a five-hundred page book, is kind of a triumph in its own right. But I got along with The Idiot splendidly.This is quiet, sparse, cerebral, philosophical, surprisingly humorous account of a Turkish-American girl's first year at Harvard. In one of her Russian classes she meets Ivan, an older Hungarian student, and she becomes inexorably drawn to him. This isn't a romantic book, necessarily, but it is one that ruminates on the nature of love. Selin's pursuit of love and pursuit of intellectualism run parallel, both stemming from a desire to understand and be understood, and this is something that Batuman explores deftly in these pages.The most noteworthy thing about this book is the brilliant protagonist that Batuman has created in Selin, and her striking narrative voice. Selin is first and foremost an observer. That's not to say that she isn't an active participant in her life, or that she doesn't make decisions, because she does, but often these decisions come more as reactions to the people and situations around her rather than from within herself. Selin observes the world in order to gain a deeper understanding of herself and where exactly she fits into the cosmic puzzle - and that's something I really connected with. I lost track of how many lines I highlighted because yes, that is me, that is my entire college experience encapsulated in a single phrase - but this one in particular stood out to me: Even though I had a deep conviction that I was good at writing, and that in some way I already was a writer, this conviction was completely independent of my having ever written anything, or being able to imagine ever writing anything, that I thought anyone would like to read. I will admit to flinching at this and some of the other truths that The Idiot elucidated for me.My only complaint is that it overstays its welcome by about a hundred pages... but I'm actually struggling to make up my mind about whether I think that's an objective fault, or if this feeling is due to the fact that I traveled halfway across the country halfway through reading this book and had to take a break for several days due to work things and eventually came back to it in a different (and more tired) frame of mind.Anyway, I can't think of many people I'd recommend this to, and I can think of several I would specifically not recommend this to (hi, Hadeer), but I thought it was brilliant. It's an easy, smooth read in some ways, but a difficult, dense read in others - Batuman doesn't rely on a flashy vocabulary to show off her intelligence, but it's on display on every single page. This isn't a book you read for escapism as much as one you read in order to gain a clearer picture of your own reality. For me, it was a resounding success in that regard.
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  • Umut Reviews
    January 1, 1970
    I read 30% of this book falling for the cover and the fact that it's on the long list for Women's Prize. Sadly I had to DNF it because I'm bored to death! I think there will be people who will like this style of writing, but it's just not for me. For a book to take me in, there needs to be one of these elements:-Beautiful writing that I will admire. In this one, the sentences are short, feels choppy. Very daily language, I feel like I'm reading someone's journal during college days in a ve I read 30% of this book falling for the cover and the fact that it's on the long list for Women's Prize. Sadly I had to DNF it because I'm bored to death! I think there will be people who will like this style of writing, but it's just not for me. For a book to take me in, there needs to be one of these elements:-Beautiful writing that I will admire. In this one, the sentences are short, feels choppy. Very daily language, I feel like I'm reading someone's journal during college days in a very simple way. And that someone even is not having an interesting life.-Interesting characters: The lead or side characters are not interesting at all. Nothing I can cling on to be charmed and follow. We didn't go deep to any of them anyway to get to know them.-Interesting story to follow: It's very daily life until this point, which I think quite a lot (30%). So, I'm not curious about anything to follow it. So, sadly I will move on to a book that I enjoy more as we all have so many books, so little time :) Thanks!
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  • Hannah Knight
    January 1, 1970
    I have a lot of complicated feelings about this book, to the point where I think if someone were to ask me, "but did you like it?" I would only be able to manage a sort of groan/shrug combo. Which might be an alright response if you're Selin. But since I'm not, I'm not super satisfied with that, and I took a lot of notes as I read that I would really hate to go to waste.So let's try to articulate this and see if we can't come up with a better response to that question than a shrug. I have a lot of complicated feelings about this book, to the point where I think if someone were to ask me, "but did you like it?" I would only be able to manage a sort of groan/shrug combo. Which might be an alright response if you're Selin. But since I'm not, I'm not super satisfied with that, and I took a lot of notes as I read that I would really hate to go to waste.So let's try to articulate this and see if we can't come up with a better response to that question than a shrug.I think The Idiot does what it does very well. What I mean by that is that this is an incredibly pretentious, disjointed novel written from the perspective of an incredibly pretentious and aimless Harvard undergrad. That's how it reads because that's who's telling the story. I wanted to use the word "solipsistic" to describe Selin, but I'm not sure that it really fits who she is most of the time. Selin spends the novel making observations about other people and the world around her, which she has a really difficult time understanding. So, I think that ultimately, not only does Selin not understand the world (which, fair enough), but she also really lacks self-awareness.And the thing is, I don't really think Selin becomes more self-aware as the novel progresses. Others have noted that devastating final paragraph, which really sums up the whole novel: (view spoiler)["When I got back to school in the fall, I changed my major from linguistics and didn't take any more classes in the philosophy or psychology of language. They had let me down. I hadn't learned what I had wanted to about how language worked. I hadn't learned anything at all." (hide spoiler)] So, Selin doesn't grow as a character, which is the main reason why I would hesitate to call this a coming of age story as others have done. At it's core, I think that it's simply a book about miscommunication and the gaps in understanding between people. "What was it to know each other?" Selin asks fairly early in the book. She never really figures that out. What troubled me the most in this novel was Selin's conception of womanhood and femininity -- in her mind, the feminine is nearly always aligned with weak, and all of her decision making orbits around Ivan, who consistently made me want to hurl. There's a great section nearly 300 pages into the book where Ivan and Selin are having one of their famous non-conversations about Crime and Punishment: "'What were we talking about?' asked Ivan. 'How it's okay to sacrifice old women if it enables your intellectual development,' I said." I would argue that Ivan feels this way about all women, and Selin never really grapples with this attitude in any meaningful way. But again, that's not really a mark against the book for me, because Selin isn't really supposed to grow like that within the context of this narrative. As a reader, I wished she would and I hoped she would, and at one point I really thought she was going to learn something important. Alas! Selin seems perfectly content in her frustration and cycle of misunderstanding. She talks a lot about going out and having experiences for the sake of her writing, and now I'm wondering if Selin's insistence on making things more difficult for herself than they need to be stems from some kind of #torturedartist complex. Exhibit A: "...I shrouded my studies in secrecy and pretended not to understand anything..." SELIN. GIRL. WHY?!Anyway, my favorite parts of this novel were Svetlana and the story from Selin's Russian class about Nina and the other Ivan, which was completely absurd and wonderful. Here we are at the end. Did I like it?No. No, I don't think I did.
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  • Elaine
    January 1, 1970
    Just loved this. While reading, I kept feeling like I had read versions of this before -- a rambling story about a cerebral main character who as a young person confronts a bewildering world of eccentric characters and odd situations without ever quite mastering them, instead always (mis)reading the world like a puzzling text - but, typically, such novels have a male protagonist. (I kept thinking of Confederacy of Dunces, actually, while reading this, largely because of some echo in the tone). S Just loved this. While reading, I kept feeling like I had read versions of this before -- a rambling story about a cerebral main character who as a young person confronts a bewildering world of eccentric characters and odd situations without ever quite mastering them, instead always (mis)reading the world like a puzzling text - but, typically, such novels have a male protagonist. (I kept thinking of Confederacy of Dunces, actually, while reading this, largely because of some echo in the tone). So to read this (anti)-Bildungsroman told from the perspective of a young woman was a special delight. And it helps that Batuman is sharp and mordant. It also didn't hurt that I went to a similar sort of university and had similarly bewildering academic and social experiences (albeit a decade or so before Selim did), that as a young woman, I was bedeviled by an absorbing but non-committal "Ivan"of my own, also at the dawn of the email era, and that "Ivan" and I poured our hearts and (particularly) all our cleverness into endless and elaborate midnight epistles (before it all got reduced to emojis!) (I wonder how many of us had similar experiences, then). Although the book is largely comic, parts of that depiction of tantalizing and thwarted first almost-love made me weep. But the humor and perception of the Idiot are compelling enough, I think, even if you have nothing in common with the protagonist. The second half in particular shines as a deadpan comedic masterpiece. I can't wait to read what Batuman writes next.
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  • Kimberly
    January 1, 1970
    I won a copy of The Idiot by Elif Batuman here on Goodreads and couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, I didn't love it. This is a novel in which nothing truly happens: nothing good, nothing bad, and nothing exciting. At over four hundred pages of what read like a rambling stream of consciousness, I never felt invested in the story or connected with any of the characters. Intelligently written with occasional dry humor and several interesting facts, it wasn't an unpleasant read; however, it is I won a copy of The Idiot by Elif Batuman here on Goodreads and couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, I didn't love it. This is a novel in which nothing truly happens: nothing good, nothing bad, and nothing exciting. At over four hundred pages of what read like a rambling stream of consciousness, I never felt invested in the story or connected with any of the characters. Intelligently written with occasional dry humor and several interesting facts, it wasn't an unpleasant read; however, it isn't one that I would widely recommend.
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  • Pascale
    January 1, 1970
    The first 300 or so pages would merit a solid 4 star rating (at least) in my opinion, its just the ending that I real can't get behind. I see in the acknowledgment that the first part was written in 2001-ish, meaning that this portion likely underwent the most editing/revising, which is maybe why I appreciate it more than the rest, the end just feels completely rushed and of sync with the rest of the novel. Maybe its the academic in me but I really enjoyed 1995-ish Harvard, this was also the set The first 300 or so pages would merit a solid 4 star rating (at least) in my opinion, its just the ending that I real can't get behind. I see in the acknowledgment that the first part was written in 2001-ish, meaning that this portion likely underwent the most editing/revising, which is maybe why I appreciate it more than the rest, the end just feels completely rushed and of sync with the rest of the novel. Maybe its the academic in me but I really enjoyed 1995-ish Harvard, this was also the setting that was most developed. Europe (France and Hungary) I felt was a little underdeveloped, as well its inhabitants. There isn't terribly much going on in regards to 'plot', but Batuman makes the first 300 pages, where very little happens, very enjoyable and what some might call 'compulsively readable'. All in all I think Batuman has a great 'voice' and I look forward to reading more of her work.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    This novel made me feel nostalgic. Set at Harvard in the mid-to-late 1990s Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot” follows a freshman named Selin as she navigates the uncertain territory of college life, young love and finding a direction in life. I went to college at this exact same time in Boston (at a much smaller, non-ivy league school) and shared many of Selin’s experiences of starting to use email for the first time and riding on the T or the MBTA subway around the city. Selin comes from a privileged T This novel made me feel nostalgic. Set at Harvard in the mid-to-late 1990s Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot” follows a freshman named Selin as she navigates the uncertain territory of college life, young love and finding a direction in life. I went to college at this exact same time in Boston (at a much smaller, non-ivy league school) and shared many of Selin’s experiences of starting to use email for the first time and riding on the T or the MBTA subway around the city. Selin comes from a privileged Turkish background and vaguely wants to be a writer (although when her first short story is published she finds no joy in it and even feels embarrassed.) She studies literature and languages: Russian, in particular. A large portion of this novel is taken up with the intricacies of campus living and then follows Selin to Hungary where she attempts to teach English in small villages. It’s plot is somewhat aimless – just as Selin’s life is somewhat aimless as she grapples to find meaning and purpose. This is the kind of book that is bound to frustrate and bore some readers (I definitely felt this way through some parts), but it also has a bewitching sense of humour and an endearingly oddball sensibility.Read my full review of The Idiot by Elif Batuman on LonesomeReader
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    [3+] The Idiot is a meandering novel about the musings of a freshman at Harvard. Like Dostevesky's idiot, she is quite smart but unworldly. After reading several reviews, I was prepared for nothing to happen, but I still had to tap into my inner patience to get through these 423 pages. What saved the novel for me was Batuman's dry wit. At times this novel was laugh-aloud funny. I also liked the literary references - like Selin referring to the cloak-like coat she bought at Filene's as Gogolian.
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  • Steve Walker
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC from the publisher for a free and honest review. Everyone has their favorite coming-of-age novel. Sadly, there may come a time for some when this sub-genre no longer works. I had high hopes for this novel. However, I just did not care. Lost interest in the characters, found myself rolling my eyes at some of the dialogue. This was not the novel for me. However, I look forward to the author's next novel.
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