The Idiot Hardcover – 1 Jun 2017
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"I loved it and could have read a thousand more pages of it. It presented this almost moment-by-moment experience of life, in a way that I just felt Batuman had so much control. There’s so much wit and pleasure in her writing you feel very comfortable being in the world she’s created." (Emma Cline, author of THE GIRLS)
"Elif Batuman is a writer whose byline creates a flutter of anticipation… If a dominant mode of her generation is knowing introspection, she writes with a bewildered outrospection that delights in the bathetic and the absurd… It’s a novel about being young and stupid that’s both wise and clever ― and it’s a treat." (Evening Standard)
"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)
"Each paragraph is a small anthology of well-made observations… Batuman has a rich sense of the details of human attachment and lust." (Dwight Garner New York Times)
"Beautifully written... a wry, funny coming-of-age story set at the dawn of email among a group of Harvard brainiacs too nerdy and self-involved to even think about sex, drugs and drinking." (Daily Mail)
"[A] masterfully funny debut novel… Erudite but never pretentious, The Idiot will make you crave more books by Batuman." (Sloane Crosley Vanity Fair)
"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 and IT CHOOSES YOU)
"A moving, continent-hopping coming-of-age story." (Observer, 2017 Books of the Year)
"Often wonderful, frequently hilarious… full of zingy one-liners and arch, deflationary observations about the absurdities of academia and adolescence…" (Financial Times)
"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)
"Self-aware, cerebral, and delightful." (Kirkus, starred review)
"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 the messy forging of a self.
" (Donna Seaman Booklist)
"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)
"Rambling, ramshackle, erudite; full of careless charm… Her jokes are one of this book’s great joys." (Sam Kitchener Daily Telegraph)
"There are very few things in life that are better than finding a novel that takes you somewhere you’ve never been, and reveals a world that you know nothing about: and that’s what lives at the heart of The Idiot. Fresh, fascinating and filled with details that are impossibly foreign and intricately fascinating, it’s a must-read for everyone looking to step outside their own lives for a little while and learn something about the experience of someone else coming into their own in such a difficult world." (Chelsea Hassler Yahoo! UK and Ireland)
"Batuman’s brainy novel is leavened with humor and a heroine incapable of artifice." (People Magazine)
"The Idiot is a baffling, if brilliant, first novel." (Totally Dublin)
"[A] witty, smart and endlessly-entertaining coming-of-age story." (National)
"The Idiot is an affectionate portrait of first love in all its bumbling haplessness, and a playful celebration of the power and limitations of language." (Literary Review)
"Very funny indeed. The Idiot is the richly observant story of [Selin's] unique and eccentric coming of age." (Sunday Times)
"Generously capacious… The triumph of Batuman’s book is to make this period of youth matter." (Guardian)
"You know when you love someone but they don’t love you back?... It’s a feeling so expertly drawn in The Idiot that you may well start to get flashbacks of your own unrequited tristes… The Idiot is beautiful in every passage, in every turn of the phrase, and full of wry observations that make you feel as if you’ve never really seen the world." (Stylist)
"Batuman captures the amplified, airless banality of the 1990s with flip sentences… Light-hearted but of high quality, it falls into the loafing abroad, goofing and self-knowing genre." (Jonathan McAloon Spectator)
"The whole novel is full of hilarious, brilliant observations about writing, life and crushes." (Curtis Sittenfeld Observer)
"Loose, largely plotless and sweetly funny, The Idiot rejects the doctrine of omitting needless words in favour of marvelling… at the complexities of language and communication." (Hannah Rosefield New Statesman)
'I loved it and could have read a thousand more pages of it.' – Emma ClineSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
This is not quite a debut novel by Batuman, and it has a few things to commend it. Her previous work was The Possessed, another book paying tribute to the Russian author.The style is atvtimesvengaging, metaphors are sparing but on the whole apt. Understandably, language plays a key role in her novel. The narrative varies between sharp and rambling.
The heroine is naive. Before she got to university she didn't know what email was.. Her mother's sister is married to a computer scientist,, she told her not to worry you will soon be sending your 'e's. Her Turkish name, Karadag, was pronounced with a silent g. Perhaps there is too much in the opening pages about her computer illiteracy. Page after page is about printers, how to report sexual harassment and register for a loan. She says the free dictionary didn't include ratatouille, or Tasmanian devil. So what? A conversation between her and Hannah is, frankly, childish. The comments about Einstein are not engaging. Statements that he invented the atomic bomb are very wrong.
There are two parts. Each chapter in these parts is named after a time of the year or a month, for example, Fall, July. Anyone who has taught at a top university will find what passes here for freshman conversation bewildering,. It is more typical of a school Year 10. That age range would enjoy this.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.
The story opens with Selin, a Turkish-American girl, moving into her dorm the fall of her freshman year at Harvard and closes at the end of the summer right before she begins her sophomore year. During that time a lot happens, yet nothing happens.
Selin makes some friends and goes to class (some of which is recounted for the reader, making me think her major is terribly boring and Harvard has a lot of freshmen level classes designed for people who will never need to find a real job and /or earn an actual income).
Also importantly, Selin develops a crush on a boy who gives gives her some seriously mixed signals. She is so inexperienced with boys that there is no way she could have a relationship, even a semi- relationship, with a boy that would not be the definition of awkward. The book never says why she is so inexperienced; I was not sure if she is just very unattractive or so caught up in academia that she never noticed boys. It's hard to imagine a girl who grew up in America (in a typical suburban setting) and made it all the way through high school only being kissed once. I'm sure it happens that way for some people, but I don't know any of those people.
Selin ends up spending the summer teaching English as a volunteer in Hungary and the book closes at the end of her trip when she returns to Boston.
WHAT I LOVED
This book was beautifully written and captures the angst of a young woman on her own for the first time, trying to figure out what she wants, who she wants to be and what is happening in the world around her.
It captures the naivety and awkwardness a first crush. Selins crush felt very authentic and kind of annoying (remember listening to a friend go on and on about a boy she liked with whom she never had the nerve to speak???). Selin simultaneously wanted something to happened, yet was terrified that something would happen.
I really liked Selin and Svetlana's relationship. Svetlana added the spunk and interest the book needed. In fact, I think a book about Svetlana would have been more up my alley.
I liked how Selin was so smart in so many ways, yet so clueless in other ways. Some of her thoughts and observations were very insightful and others were downright hilarious.
During Selin's time in Hungary, her interactions with Rozsa were entertaining. Also the way people there were so open with their opinions was funny. For example; Rozsa was well aware that people found her to be an annoying know it all; she knew this, told Selin about it very matter of factly, yet didn't really care enough to make any changes in her personality which would have made her more fun to be around.
WHAT I DIDN'T LOVE
Really nothing happened. The story can, more or less, be recounted in about 5 sentences yet it's 424 pages long. The remaining 434 1/2 pages are mostly filled with inconsequential details. About 20 pages of the book were relegated to a direct quotes and summaries of a book Selin was required to read for her Russian class. And it wasn't a particularly interesting story. Several pages were dedicated to detailed descriptions of her language analysis classes. How it that make it into the book?? Zzz...
Selin lived inside her head so much it got annoying. She over thought almost everything which made her riddled with indecision and rendered her helpless and unable to act (mostly in relation to her crush but in other ways as well). Also, I have very little patience for people pining over unrequited crushes or wasting time on people who are either unavailable or are inappropriate choices for them. I know, not very generous of me, but seriously??? There are other fish in the sea, get a net and cast it!!!
Why do all the characters in 'thinky' books go to schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc. Can't there be any intellectual people at schools like Michigan State or SMU? Just saying.
The ending was a bit disappointing. I don't want to say to much and spoil it, but I kind of couldn't believe I read the whole darn thing that was how it ended?!?
Although it wasn't my ideal book, I am willing to be that a lot of people would love it.