Brooklynite Elif Batuman to release profound and humorous debut novel
When published in hardcover in 2017, Elif Batuman’s debut novel “The Idiot” dazzled critics and readers alike. Even Greta Gerwig, the actress and movie director of indie sensation “Lady Bird,” named it one of her favorite books of the year, saying, “[Batuman] accomplishes in this novel what I’m always trying to do in film: make the mundane extraordinary not by adorning it but by telling it as it is.”
Now available in paperback, “The Idiot,” which will be released on March 3, takes the kind of story we think we know well — the portrait of an artist as a young woman — and turns it on its head. What results is a wickedly funny and charmingly honest novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself, too.
Our heroine, Selin, is the daughter of Turkish immigrants who enters her freshman year at Harvard with the quest to become a writer — or at least, she is enthralled with finding the meaning of language. She studies linguistics, enrolls in beginning Russian, teaches English as a second language at a community housing project and begins a rather chaste love affair with an older Hungarian mathematics student, Ivan, which becomes frustratingly complicated — this being the mid-’90s — by the introduction of email.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Selin is “acutely self-conscious but fiercely intelligent, she consistently renders a strange, mordantly funny and precisely observed world … Selin’s is a consciousness one does now want to part with”. Selin is both worldly and innocent, as only an 18-year-old can be, but her questions are profound: How does culture and language shape our experience? What defines love?
Selin’s adventures remind us of both the uneasiness and the freedom of young adulthood — the world is intoxicating with possibilities and yet dauntingly frustrating. Batuman lets us revel in that dichotomy with her keen observations and sly wit.
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 Heights.
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