The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Penguin Press, 2017
Motivation for reading:
This is a book I pulled off the library shelf nearly a year ago during my inaugural "book sampling hour." Sitting in a comfy chair at our pleasantly cool library on a spring afternoon, I read 15-20 pages of several books, including The Idiot. I ended up choosing another book, but continued to think about this one and knew I would come back to it eventually.
I didn't know what email was until I got to college. I had heard of email and knew that in some sense I would "have" it. "You'll be so fancy," said my mother's sister, who's married to a computer scientist, "sending your e, mails." She emphasized the "e" and paused before "mail."
The Idiot is a coming-of-age story about the daughter of Turkish immigrants as she begins her freshman year at Harvard in 1995. It's a literary novel, cerebral and full of ideas... exactly what you might expect with a Harvard freshman protagonist.
It turned out to be an unusual reading experience for me. Far from a page-turner, this book required more than my average amount of concentration. I was not especially drawn to the main character, didn't fully understand her, and yet was curious to see how her year would unfold. Additionally, I was never in a hurry to get back to this novel, but was happy to continue whenever I did.
This was a read/listen combination for me, listening on my walks and reading at home. The audiobook is read by the author. Her narration was adequate, though not memorable.
The Idiot is very well written and said to be autobiographical. It was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and Women's Prize for Fiction in 2018. Batuman has written other books, both fiction and memoir, and is a staff writer at The New Yorker.
A sequel to The Idiot, entitled Either/Or, picks up as the main character enters her sophomore year. In a smart marketing move, a sample is included at the end of the paperback edition. After reading it, I think I'll tag along for another year at Harvard.