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Publisher's Summary

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 that they entail.

©2017 Elif Batuman (P)2017 Penguin Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating point of view

The author's voice and experiences are interestingly objective - intelligent, restrained and artifice- free. If you require a plot-driven story, this isn't the one for you. If, though, you'd like to get out of your head and into the author's, then dive on in!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Captures the strangeness of being

This account of a young woman's first year at Harvard and summer trip to Hungary captures the random directionlessness of life and of the mind and also the human foreignness to language. Batuman captures the feeling that words are incapable of describing our experience and that no one even begins to understand this problem. If you're looking for the kind of "twisty plot" that is so common these days, you will be disappointed. But if you are ready for a new dimension of existence to be revealed to you, this is the book.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Disappointing narration

What disappointed you about The Idiot?

The narrator is the author and she should stick to writing. Her flat narration ruined the book for me. It was like someone telling jokes who ruins a good punch line every time.

What did you like best about this story?

I think if I read it that it would be funny. Half way through the book I decided to read it instead of listening to the rest.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Elif Batuman?

Anyone with more dramatic flair or sense of humor.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Narration awful. Dull, no emotion!

May be better to read. The narrator ruined it. Also, no plot. Read like a Junior High diary. Sorry to be so harsh but bad listen!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Flawless

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a book this much for language, thought and tone alone. Thanks, Elif Batuman.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Hope for meaning here is a false flag.

One would be an idiot to complete reading or listening to this book. The author worked hard, but so what?

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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Truly an original

This story was honest and detailed, both intellectually complex and childishly simple. It perfectly embodies that weird youthful love of two incomplete people, somehow both selfish and infinitely generous.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Compelling and affecting 'voice'

Loved this, found myself thinking and talking like the narrator even tho little plot, just a year in the life of a very observant, smart fish out of water 19yo

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

I wanted to Love this Book

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The beginning of this book caught my attention but I stopped listening 11 hours in (close to the end of the novel) because I found myself wishing I could listen to something else on my commute home. I wanted to love this book but thought it dragged on a bit too long.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

BEAUTIFUL

beautiful gentle yearning story. The author's voice is lovely. I felt like I understood the story better hearing her read it. empty yet hopeful. starting her second year at Harvard, she comments she hadn't learned anything in certain classes... wise yet never arrogant. honest!