André Aciman has been hailed as "the most exciting new fiction writer of the 21st century" (New York magazine), a "brilliant chronicler of the disconnect...between who we are and who we wish we might have been" (Wall Street Journal), and a writer of "fiction at its most supremely interesting" (Colm Tóibín). Now, with his third and most ambitious novel, Aciman delivers an elegant and powerful tale of the wages of assimilation - a moving story of an immigrant’s remembered youth and the nearly forgotten costs and sacrifices of becoming an American.
It’s the fall of 1977, and amid the lovely, leafy streets of Cambridge a young Harvard graduate student, a Jew from Egypt, longs more than anything to become an assimilated American and a professor of literature. He spends his days in a pleasant blur of 17th-century fiction, but when he meets a brash, charismatic Arab cab driver in a Harvard Square café, everything changes. Nicknamed Kalashnikov - Kalaj for short - for his machine-gun vitriol, the cab driver roars into the student’s life with his denunciations of the American obsession with "all things jumbo and ersatz" - Twinkies, monster television sets, all-you-can-eat buffets - and his outrageous declarations on love and the art of seduction. The student finds it hard to resist his new friend’s magnetism, and before long he begins to neglect his studies and live a double life: one in the rarefied world of Harvard, the other as an exile with Kalaj on the streets of Cambridge. Together they carouse the bars and cafés around Harvard Square, trade intimate accounts of their love affairs, argue about the American dream, and skinny-dip in Walden Pond. But as final exams loom and Kalaj has his license revoked and is threatened with deportation, the student faces the decision of his life: whether to cling to his dream of New-World assimilation or risk it all to defend his Old-World friend.
Harvard Square is a sexually charged and deeply American novel of identity and aspiration at odds. It is also an unforgettable, moving portrait of an unlikely friendship from one of the finest stylists of our time.
©2013 Andre Aciman (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
"If you like brave, acute, elated, naked, brutal, tender, humane, and beautiful prose, then you’ve come to the right place." (Nicole Krauss)
I loved the openness and insights of the narrator of this Jamesian novel, looking back years later on the life changes he underwent as a foreign-born graduate student at Harvard. The unnamed (I think) narrator longs to be part of both the elite Cambridge community and the working class taxi-driving community of North Africans and other exiles. The narrator is drawn to the brash, vulgar, impulsive Kalash, feeling as foreign (at times) as his hard-to-control friend. The changes in his attitude to Kalash, to Cambridge and to the Harvard community provide the book's momentum. There are moments of laugh-out-loud humor that subside to the deepest sadness. Beautiful portraits of the immigrant community within a very special American subculture.
The narration by Sanjiv Jhaveri left me with mixed feelings. At first, I thought his accent (assumed for the book, based on his accent-free introduction and a few other characters' voices) was a caricature, something you might find in a comic foil on a network sitcom. But as we got to know the narrator, elements of Jhaveri's voice became appealing--a longing quality, a wistfulness, an eagerness to please. I was very sorry to "miss" his voice when the book ended.
All in all, an enjoyable listening experience that made me want to read more by this author.
I wanted to read this book, but I was somewhat put off by the narrator's accent in the audio sample, so I bought the Kindle version first. Then I read an Audible reviewer who said that the narrator did a great job, so I took a chance on the Audible version.
It does take a few minutes to get used to the voice that the narrator uses for the person telling the story, but he also uses a variety of voices for the other character. The voice he uses for Kalaj is perfect, and while I read a few short sections in the Kindle book, I missed hearing the narrator's voice and ended up listening to most of the book. In fact, I think this ia case where the narrator actually makes the book better.
André Aciman writes extremely well, and while this book is more episodic than plot-driven, I enjoyed every minute of it. He creates a series of memorable characters, but the two main characters and the dynamic between them is the primary focus.
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