The Idiot
by Elif Batuman

Overview - "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...

  • Retail Price: $27.00
  • $19.17
    (Save 29%)

Add to Cart + Add to Wishlist

In Stock

FREE Shipping for Club Members
> Check In-Store Availability

In-Store pricing may vary

New & Used Marketplace 40 copies from $11.98

This item is available only to U.S. billing addresses.

More About The Idiot by Elif Batuman
"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.

  • ISBN-13: 9781594205613
  • ISBN-10: 1594205612
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Publish Date: March 2017
  • Page Count: 432
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds

Related Categories

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

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2017-01-02
  • Reviewer: Staff

The mysterious relationship between language and the world is just one of the questions troubling Selin Karadag, the 18-year-old protagonist of Batumans (The Possessed) wonderful first novel, a bildungsroman Selin narrates with fluent wit and inexorable intelligence. Beginning her first year at Harvard in the fall of 1995, Selin is determined to be a courageous person, uncowed by other peoples dumb opinions; she already thinks of herself as a writer, although this conviction was completely independent of having ever written anything. In a Russian class, the Turkish-American Selin is befriended by the worldlier Svetlana, whose Serbian family has endowed her with capital and complexes, and the older Hungarian math major Ivan, who becomes Selins correspondent in an exciting new medium: email. Their late-night exchanges inspire Selin more than anything else in her life, but they frustrate her, too: Ivans intentions toward her are vague, perhaps even to himself. Traveling to Paris with Svetlana in the summer of 1996, Selin plans to continue on to Hungary, where she will teach English in a village school, and then to Turkey, where her extended family resides. Thus Batuman updates the grand tour travelogue just as she does the epistolary novel and the novel of ideas, in prose as deceptively light as it is ambitious. One character wonders whether its possible to be sincere without sounding pretentious, and this long-awaited and engrossing novel delivers a resounding yes. (Mar.)

BookPage Reviews

Perfect imperfections

BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, March 2017

Human relationships are tricky: They’re built on communication, which relies on language. And language, of course, is unreliable. This is the frustrating truth at the heart of The Idiot, Elif Batuman’s debut novel.

Batuman, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010 (and author of the 2010 essay collection The Possessed), says her novel is semi-autobiographical. Like its heroine, she was born and raised in New Jersey to Turkish immigrant parents. The two also share a fascination with language, which is evident on every page.

The Idiot is part coming-of-age, part love story. It’s steeped in travel and in the devastating power of words—or, more precisely, the general inadequacy of words when it comes to truly getting close to other people.

Our narrator, Selin, is about to start her freshman year at Harvard in the mid-’90s. Quiet and awkward, Selin observes her surroundings with an unfiltered blend of wonder and deadpan humor. Her running commentary is a pure delight. She’s at once hilarious, self-deprecating and painfully accurate—and free of the conventions of thought that can make the inner life of a college student seem so ordinary. Basically, she’s odd in the best way.

Meeting a professor in his office one day when she has a terrible cold, Selin silently ponders the similarities between a book and a box of tissue: “[B]oth consisted of slips of white paper in a cardboard case,” she notes. But one of the two—ironically, given the setting—has zero utility if all you want is to blow your nose. “These were the kinds of things I thought about all the time, even though they were neither pleasant nor useful,” she adds. “I had no idea what you were supposed to be thinking about.”

Part of the novel’s joy comes from Selin’s encounters with others, from her snippy roommate and her intense classmate Svetlana (with whom she travels to Paris) to Ivan, the enigmatic Hungarian she falls for in Russian class and follows to Budapest. Batuman is especially great at illustrating the torment of love. But nearly all of her characters’ efforts to achieve mutual understanding are imperfect—which, for the reader, turns out to be perfect indeed.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Elif Batuman about The Idiot.

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

BAM Customer Reviews