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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

Critic Reviews

“Easily the funniest book I’ve read this year.” (GQ

“Masterly funny debut novel.... Erudite but never pretentious, The Idiot will make you crave more books by Batuman.” (Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair)  

“Batuman wittily and wisely captures the tribulations of a shy, cerebral teenager struggling with love, friendship, and whether to take psycholinguistics or philosophy of language.... Batuman’s writing is funny and deadpan, and Selin’s observations tease out many relatable human quandaries surrounding friendship, social niceties and first love. The result: a novel that may not keep readers up late turning pages feverishly, but that will quietly amuse and provoke thought.” (Huffington Post)  

What listeners say about The Idiot

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    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!

17 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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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.

14 people found this helpful

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The most boring read ever

Performance is below mind numbingly boring, this performer should be baned from reading aloud to others!

5 people found this helpful

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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.

11 people found this helpful

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Flawless

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

5 people found this helpful

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Banal in the Extreme

I kept waiting for something to happen. I knew it was written as a memoir of a year in the life of a Harvard teenager, but it sounds like it was written by a Harvard teenager. The treks through the parks and lakes are allegorical of nothing. The misunderstanding and discovery of language reveals nothing. A teenager struggled in her first year of adult life. She went on an adventure and struggled. She liked a boy and struggled. Just like everyone else.

3 people found this helpful

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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!!

6 people found this helpful

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The perfect book

I thought reading “The Idiot” was the best things could get, but then I found “The Possessed”. After reading “The Possessed” I was relatively sure I had found the closest I could get to a soul in novel form. But then I heard Elif read her own words out loud and I knew I was wrong. If you don’t download this book you’re an idiot.

2 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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I couldn’t tell if it was written/read by a bot

It’s as if Alexa compiled her top 1000 musings on humans in no particular order. Every once in a while, you think, “Oh my gosh, that sounded just like a real person forming a thought!” only to realize, “Wait, no, I’ve been fooled again - just random sentences.” It’s entirely possible that this book, however, when read to yourself with your own [human] intonation, could be potentially entertaining - clever, even! Some of these musings are odd in a poetically endearing way. Like the one about email being a record of your life intersecting with others. Quirky. Sweet. Innocent. Just like an AI that has no sense of what a human person would find of interest in a book.

1 person found this helpful

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Insipid

The thought that most entered my head while I was reading this was, "Kill me now!" The book was just string after string after string of insipid pseudo-intellectual bullshit that didn't make any sense. There was no plot, two dimensional characters, random wanderings (or ramblings) of events with no point. Really worthless. If Batuman was trying to make some parallel or connection to the masterpiece, "The Idiot" by Dostoyevsky, she failed miserably. Throughout the novel, I kept wondering who did she pay off/sleep with/is related to, to get this published. Also, Ms. Batuman should not read her own novels. Most of the time she sounded like she was going to fall asleep from the boredom of reading her own book. Her affect could not have been flatter. Suffice it to say, not worth the time or money.

3 people found this helpful