The Idiot Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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“Masterly funny debut novel . . Erudite but never pretentious, The Idiot will make you crave more books by Batuman.” —Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair
“Batuman wittily and wisely captures the tribulations of a shy, cerebral teenager struggling with love, friendship, and whether to take psycholinguistics or philosophy of language . . . Batuman’s writing is funny and deadpan, and Selin’s observations tease out many relatable human quandaries surrounding friendship, social niceties and first love. The result: a novel that may not keep readers up late turning pages feverishly, but that will quietly amuse and provoke thought.” — Huffington Post
“Batuman’s brainy novel is leavened with humor and a heroine incapable of artifice.”— People
“Batuman has won a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for humor, and her book is consistently hilarious. If this is a sentimental education, it’s one leavened by a great deal of mordant and delightful humor. . . . At once a cutting satire of academia, a fresh take on the epistolary novel, a poignant bildungsroman, and compelling travel literature, “The Idiot’’ is also a touching and spirited portrait of the artist as a hugely appealing young woman.”— Boston Globe
“The Idiot is an impressive debut with a ridiculous amount of charm and a protagonist so relatable she’s almost impossible to forget.”— A.V. Club
“The Idiot is wonderful. Batuman, a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of the sparkling autobiographical essay collection The Possessed (2010), has brave and original ideas about what a “novel” might mean and no qualms about flouting literary convention. She is endlessly beguiled by the possibilities and shortcomings of language . . . . It is a pleasure to watch Batuman render this process with the wit, sensitivity, and relish of someone who’s successfully emerged on the other side of it. For all of her fascination with linguistic puzzle boxes, the author tempers her protagonist’s intellectual vertigo with maturity and common sense.”— Slate
“Beautifully written first novel…Batuman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, has an extraordinarily deft touch when it comes to sketching character…The novel fairly brims with provocative ideas about language, literature and culture.” — The Associated Press
“A vibrant novel of ideas . . . Like her essays, Batuman’s bildungsroman is a succession of droll misadventures built around chance encounters, peculiar conversations and sharp-eyed observations. Both on campus and abroad, she brings the ever-fresh perspective of a perpetual stranger in a strange land. Her deceptively simple declarative sentences are underpinned by a poker-faced sense of absurdity and humor so dry it calls for olives.”— San Francisco Chronicle
“With her smart and deliciously comic 2010 debut, the essay collection “The Possessed,” Elif Batuman wrote one of the 21st century’s great love letters to reading . . . It was a tour de force intellectual comedy encasing an apologia for literary obsession . . . A different — though no less tenuous — variety of possession is explored in “The Idiot,” Batuman’s first novel . . . 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. Acutely self-conscious but fiercely intelligent, she consistently renders a strange, mordantly funny and precisely observed world . . . Selin’s is a consciousness one does not want to part with; by the end of the book, I felt as if I were in the presence of a strange, slightly detached, utterly brilliant friend. “I kept thinking about the uneven quality of time,” she writes, “the way it was almost always so empty, and then with no warning came a few days that felt so dense and alive and real that it seemed indisputable that that was what life was, that its real nature had finally been revealed.” Batuman articulates those little moments — of revelation and of emptiness — as well as anyone writing today. The book’s legacy seems destined to be one of observation, not character — though when the observer is this gifted, is that really any wonder?”—LA Times
“No one writes funnier or more stylishly about higher education. Nothing written about grad school is as entertaining as her 2010 collection of dispatches from Stanford's comparative-literature department, The Possessed, and her studied satire of Harvard in The Idiot is nearly its equal.”—Village Voice
“Batuman’s sardonic wit makes for a delectable unfolding of Selin’s experience of love, life and language.”—BBC.com
"Batuman’s novel is roaringly funny. It is also intellectually subtle, surprising, and enlightening. It is a book fueled by deadpan wonder."—New York Review of Books
“Charming, hilarious and wise debut novel . . . Batuman titled the book The Idiot (after Dostoevsky’s famous novel) but it isn't an excoriation of its heroine. Instead, it's a fond reflection. Oh, you poor, silly idiot, she seems to be saying. The Idiot, a novel of innocence and experience, is infused with the generous attitude that Dag Hammarskjöld expressed in his memoir Markings, "For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is to come, Yes!"”— Dallas News
“The Idiot is half The Education of Henry Adams and half Innocents Abroad. Twain would have savored Selin's first international trip to Paris, Hungary and Turkey…Our first footsteps into adulthood are often memorable. Taking them in Selin's shoes is an entertaining, intellectual journey not to be missed."
— Shelf Awareness
“Selin is entrancing—so smart, so clueless, so funny—and Batuman’s exceptional discernment,
comedic brilliance, and soulful inquisitiveness generate a charmingly incisive and resonant tale of themessy forging of a self.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“Wonderful first novel . . . Batuman updates the grand tour travelogue just as she does the epistolary novel and the novel of ideas, in prose as deceptively light as it is ambitious. One character wonders whether it’s possible ‘to be sincere without sounding pretentious,’ and this long-awaited and engrossing novel delivers a resounding yes.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Selin is delightful company. She's smart enough to know the ways in which she is dumb, and her off-kilter relationship to the world around her is revelatory and, often, mordantly hilarious. Readers who are willing to travel with Selin at her own contemplative pace will be grateful that they did. Self-aware, cerebral, and delightful.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Not since Don Quixote has a quest for love gone so hilariously and poignantly awry. In spare, unforgettable prose, Batuman the traveller (to Harvard, to mysterious Hungary) recreates for the reader the psychic state of being a child entering language. We marvel and tremble with her at the impossibility and mysterious necessity for human connection that both makes life worthwhile and yet so often strands us all in torment. This book is a bold, unforgettable, un-put-downable read by a new master stylist. Best novel I've read in years.”
—Mary Karr, author of The Art of Memoir, Lit, and The Liars’ Club
“I’m not Turkish, I don’t have a Serbian best friend, I’m not in love with a Hungarian, I don’t go to Harvard. Or do I? For one wonderful week, I got to be this worldly and brilliant, this young and clumsy and in love. The Idiot is a hilariously mundane immersion into a world that has never before received the 19th Century Novel treatment. An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down.”
—Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man and It Chooses You
“Elif Batuman’s novel not only captures the storms and mysteries and comedies of youth but, in its wonderfully sensitive portrait of a young woman adventuring across languages and cultures, it brilliantly draws to our attention a modern politics of friendship. This is a remarkable book.”
—Joseph O’Neill, author of The Dog and Netherland
“Elif Batuman surely has one of the best senses of humour in American letters. The pleasure she takes in observing the eccentricities of each of her characters makes for a really refreshing and unique bildungsroman: one more fascinated with what’s going on around and outside the bewildered protagonist, than what’s going on inside her.”
—Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be? and Ticknor
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.54 pounds
- Hardcover : 432 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594205613
- ISBN-10 : 1594205612
- Publisher : Penguin Press; First Edition (March 14, 2017)
- Dimensions : 6.56 x 1.38 x 9.56 inches
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #584,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Despite being over 400 pages, this is a whip-quick read. It's broken up into sections that are rarely more than four pages and are often hardly a page. It's a perfect commuting book, if you are often forced to pause, but it could also easily be breezed through in a week or two. I highly, highly recommend it. It left a very positive impression on me.
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 jerk. 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.
Top reviews from other countries
There were flashes of descriptive writing that came alive for me and really evoked the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. Most of the time Selin and I were mildly bewildered.
Selin's experiences are occasionally mildly amusing but mostly tedious. By the end I had the feeling that nothing had actually happened.
Selin is a freshman student of languages at Harvard. She aspires to be a writer and for her “language itself is a self sufficient system.” At Harvard, she befriends Svetlana, who is an extremely smart and opinionated girl and becomes Selin’s confidante over the first year of her college life. Selin takes up a Russian language class and ends up meeting Ivan there. She develops a crush on him, which she thinks is serious love. They begin an innocent email correspondance, talking about nothing in particular. She follows him to Hungary over summers, where she teaches English to children in a village. Selin and Ivan are the quintessential “will they, won’t they” couple and their relationship, or rather the lack of it; forms the central arc of the story.
I liked Selin’s character. She is an extremely intelligent girl with a very “no non-sense” attitude. Her infatuation with Ivan is also understandable, because it is very usual for an eighteen year old to have such feelings. And equally impressive is Svetlana, who is her own twisted way is often the voice of reason for Selin. I understand that this book was supposed be kind of a “coming of age story”. The first half was dedicated to describing Selin’s first year at Harvard, which personally for me triggered a lot of nostalgia about Boston and Cambridge. However, I felt the story sort of fell off rails in the second half which was dedicated to describing Selin’s summer in Hungary, interspersed with her meetings with Ivan. It stretched so long that by the end I had lost interest in knowing if they would be together or not.
I guess this is one of those books which would generate a very polarised opinions, readers would absolutely love it or not like it at all. I feel this is one one the weaker books in the short list of women’s prize.
Where do I begin to explain, how can I show what the book is about and why was I so delighted by the story? It is a vigorous mix of naivety, first love, broken hearts and language as a phenomenon. The book is about friendship and support, about finding one's place in life, about one’s own history, about taekwondo and "the great and mighty Russian language". And it is a novel in a novel, different stories interlinked to make the most amusing narrative. Batuman is a stone-faced humorist.
The novel is divided into two parts: Selin’s academic year in Harvard and her adventures in Hungary, where she goes during summer holidays to teach English as a foreign language. I preferred her academic life (and so did most readers as I found out from the internet research). But guys, "The Idiot" is beautiful. And as the "historical novel" about that distant time, when emails were new and nobody heard of mobile phones, it brings on the wave of sweet nostalgia.
The American edition has a beautiful pink cover with a rough granite stone of science to grind away at. Not so excited about the British cover.
Top marks from me. Five stars. A must read! Not without some criticism, but for the gift of unbridled laughter (read: hysteria) that I experienced while reading it – I cannot not recommend it! A pleasure!