I first became aware of Elif Batuman from her reportage and analysis in The New Yorker. Her intelligence, canny use of language, and sly humor distinguished her work there, and are on full display in this novel. My colleagues agree that this book is hilarious and compelling. I've given this book as a gift multiple times — highly recommended! Recommended By Bart K., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction
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.
With superlative emotional and intellectual sensitivity, mordant wit, and pitch-perfect style, Batuman dramatizes the uncertainty of life on the cusp of adulthood. Her prose is a rare and inimitable combination of tenderness and wisdom; its logic as natural and inscrutable as that of memory itself. The Idiot is a heroic yet self-effacing reckoning with the terror and joy of becoming a person in a world that is as intoxicating as it is disquieting. Batuman’s fiction is unguarded against both life’s affronts and its beauty–and has at its command the complete range of thinking and feeling which they entail.
Named one the best books of the year by Refinery29 • Mashable One • Elle Magazine • The New York Times • Bookpage • Vogue • NPR • Buzzfeed •The Millions
“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
“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
"Acutely self-conscious but fiercely intelligent, [Batuman] consistently renders a strange, mordantly funny and precisely observed world....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
“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.” San Francisco Chronicle
“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.” Boston Globe
“The Idiot is wonderful. Batuman...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.” Slate
"Batuman’s writing is funny and deadpan, and Selin’s observations tease out many relatable human quandaries surrounding friendship, social niceties and first love." Huffington Post
“Masterly funny debut novel...Erudite but never pretentious, The Idiot will make you crave more books by Batuman.” Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair
About the Author
Elif Batuman has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. The recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, and a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for Humor, she also holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University. The Idiot is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.