Fiction Literary Recommendations

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

While the outward plot of The Idiot is about Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, and her navigation of her freshman year at Harvard, it’s really about words and how language shapes our experience of the world. And as a person who spends most of my days thinking about, editing, and writing words, this was absolute and irresistible cat nip.The Idiot is a creed for the thoughtful and the introspective. It is an exploration for those curious about the construct of language. It is a novel for novelists.

When Selin arrives at Harvard in 1995, everything from her first sip of alcohol to her linguistic class is a source of curiosity and reflection. Then, one day, she impulsively begins an email correspondence with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary, and he is so detached, so charming, and so obscure that Selin falls in love with him. Or perhaps more accurately she thinks about falling in love with him. Because everything in this book, especially her relationship with Ivan, is understood and sometimes misunderstood by her unique and hyper-analytical perspective.

My favorite parts of this novel were the musings on language and Selin’s rather glum realization that she is destined to be a writer. (No surprise why I liked that so much!) Towards the end of the book, during her summer abroad in Hungary, Selin is put up by a Hungarian host family. Inexplicably, there is a stuffed weasel in the corner of her new bedroom and Selin’s host offers to remove it in case it scared her in the night. But Selin refuses. She says she doesn’t know much about becoming a writer, but she does know one thing: “If you really wanted to be a writer, you didn’t send away the weasel.” As a writer, I just love that. Because I do the same; I try to open myself to all the different and unusual experiences life has to offer. In The Idiot we get to see Selin do just that. It is hilarious, sometimes painful, and always beautiful.




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