The Idiot
by Elif Batuman

Overview - A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017

"An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down."
--Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man and It Chooses You

"Easily the funniest book I've read this year."
-- GQ

A portrait of the artist as a young woman.  Read more...

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More About The Idiot by Elif Batuman
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017

"An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down."
--Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man and It Chooses You

"Easily the funniest book I've read this year."

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 which they entail.

The Idiot is the perfect gift for the holidays

  • ISBN-13: 9781594205613
  • ISBN-10: 1594205612
  • Publisher: Penguin Pr
  • Publish Date: March 2017
  • Page Count: 423
  • Dimensions: 1.25 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.48 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Coming of Age
Books > Fiction > Contemporary Women

BookPage Reviews

Best Books of 2017

After much discussion and determined lobbying for our personal favorites, the editors of BookPage have reached a consensus on the year’s best books. These are the books we can’t forget—and can’t stop sharing with readers wherever we go.

#1 Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere

In the privileged community of Shaker Heights, wealth and comfort crumble in the firelight of Ng’s brilliant storytelling.

#2 George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo

The incomparable winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize is a heartbreaking, funny, strange reflection on grief after loss.

#3 Elif Batuman
The Idiot

This hilarious debut pulls no punches in depicting the absurdity of campus life and the particularly awkward magic of early adulthood.

#4 Mohsin Hamid
Exit West
Spiced with unexpected magic, this imaginative love story follows a young couple who join a wave of migrants as their city collapses.

#5 Stephanie Powell Watts
No One Is Coming to Save Us

In a riveting riff on The Great Gatsby, Watts’ first novel focuses on the residents of a down-on-its-luck North Carolina town.

#6 Min Jin Lee

Addicting and powerful, this superb novel follows four generations of a Korean family carving out a life in Japan despite racism and war.

#7 Jennifer Egan
Manhattan Beach

During World War II, one woman becomes the first female diver at the Brooklyn docks. Hold your breath and sink in deep.

#8 Walter Isaacson
Leonardo da Vinci

Isaacson delves into Leonardo’s life and pulls back the curtain of genius on one of the most brilliant men who ever lived.

#9 Ron Chernow

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author offers a richly detailed, uncommonly compelling biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

#10 Hala Alyan
Salt Houses

At the heart of Alyan’s debut are enormous themes of time and family, grounded by piercing insight and striking, poetic language.

#11 Jesmyn Ward
Sing, Unburied, Sing

This intricately layered story with supernatural elements offers a brutal view of racial tensions in the modern-day American South.

#12 David Sedaris
Theft by Finding

Beloved humorist Sedaris shares 20 years of observations in this collection of diary entries that toe the line between hilarious and weird.

#13 Nina Riggs
The Bright Hour

With levity and bittersweetness amid the worst moments, Riggs’ account of living with cancer is feisty, uplifting reading.

#14 Dennis Lehane
Since We Fell

Already optioned for film, this bewitching thriller follows an intrepid journalist as she uncovers her family’s darkest secrets.

#15 Scott Kelly

After spending a year in space, veteran astronaut Kelly has returned to Earth to tell us what life is like among the stars.

#16 Sherman Alexie
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

Don’t trust just anyone to break your heart, but do trust Alexie and this unconventional memoir of his relationship with his mother.

#17 Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees

Nine superb, understated stories from the Pulitzer Prize winner find characters stretched between cultures, countries and desires.

#18 Timothy B. Tyson
The Blood of Emmett Till

The most notorious hate crime in American history receives the insightful, fearless inquiry it deserves.

#19 Suzy Hansen
Notes on a Foreign Country

Hansen’s investigation into U.S. involvement abroad is a compelling look at the consequences of interventionist foreign policy.

#20 Richard Ford
Between Them

Ford’s memoir is a gentle testament to the powerful love his parents had for each other and for their son.

#21 Patricia Lockwood

This unforgettable memoir offers a heartbreakingly funny look at an award-winning poet’s unconventional Catholic upbringing.

#22 Kamila Shamsie
Home Fire

Shamsie’s confident, dreamy reimagining of Antigone grasps a throbbing heart of love and loyalty.

#23 Kayla Rae Whitaker
The Animators

Two best friends and successful cartoonists navigate the creative process in this heartfelt debut.

#24 Sarah Perry
After the Eclipse

A daughter attempts to come to terms with her mother’s murder in this emotional true-crime memoir.

#25 Inara Verzemnieks
Among the Living and the Dead

The granddaughter of Latvian refugees pieces together her history.


This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews