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The Idiot Book Review

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The Idiot by Elif Batuman is set in 1995 and follows Selin, a Turkish-American student navigating her freshman year at Harvard. Alongside linguistic studies she explores love, identity, and intellectual pursuits, forming an email correspondence with Ivan, a senior math major. After finishing her first year of college Ivan invites Selin to Hungary for the summer and Selin decides to go. Amidst self-discovery and awkward terrain, Selin tries to understand her opportunities, first love, and future. 

Batuman went to college at Harvard where she received a degree in linguistics. She has worked as a staff reporter for the New Yorker since 2010 and has published 3 books. The Idiot is Batuman’s second novel and was released in 2018 becoming a runner-up for a Pulitzer prize. In an interview with Granta Magazine (below) Bautman says, “The published version of The Idiot is the most autobiographical part of what I had written”. During the writing process, Batuman described a pressure to fictionalize her writing but ended up with an absurd tangle of unlikely events and decided to keep it real.

One thing I found intriguing about The Idiot was how heavily the book focused on the main character Selin’s stream of consciousness. Batuman shares both deeply thoughtful observations and blunt humorous thoughts throughout the novel creating a book driven by character development. Batumans writing style is very confessional as Selin navigates the uncertainty of her relationships, her life at college, and the opportunities she is given throughout the book. When it comes to Selin’s narration the reader is often met with subtle anxiety as she doubts that she is doing anything correctly. It makes the book very personal as you listen and experience Selin’s thoughts. This was one of the main reasons I liked the book as much as I did because as you dive deeper into the story you get to know Selin like a friend, caring for her not because she’s some grand hero but because you know her so well. At times this took away from the novel by creating a shortage of plot. Occasionally I got lost in trying to find the reason behind some of the character’s actions, but the book is consistent in this and overall works in a way that this lends favor to Batuman’s portrayal of young adult life. 

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read that resonated with me on many different levels. It is rather lengthy for how much happens, so I would recommend it to people who don’t mind sitting through that kind of thing (it is worth it). From character development to sensitivity and wit, The Idiot has lots to share.

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About the Contributor
Mitch Bottomly, Staff Reporter
Mitch is currently a Sophomore and this is her first year on staff. Outside of school, she enjoys painting, rock climbing reading, and watching movies.

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