The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The ISelf Portrait with The Idiot by Elif Batumandiot by Elif Batuman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read this book, I didn’t find it especially engaging. If anything, I found it confusing, but afterward, I could not stop thinking about it. It’s more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one.

The protagonist, Selin, is the narrator. She keeps herself out of the story and only offers seemingly insignificant observations. So, I kept asking myself: Is she stupid? Is she trying to be clever? Is she trying to create meaning out of the mundane?

I kept reading for the nostalgia.

Selin is a Freshman at Harvard in 1996. I was a Freshman in 1994 (I went to college in the Midwest, though).

Selin communicates with her love interest, Ivan, mostly over email. I was one of those people who loved the internet in 1994. Not only did I use email, but I spent a lot of time on ewtoo talkers. Selin’s email conversations lead to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding (as usual with text-only communication), as well as reflection upon the implications of text-based communication (which happened a lot in the 90s, not at all now).

In true college student form, Selin and Ivan are intentionally cryptic to make themselves appear more mysterious and intelligent than they are. There is a growing sense of tension around the emails between Selin and Ivan, yet, the conversations themselves remained banal. Again, I found that relatable and it made me feel nostalgic for my own college years.

My nostalgia wore off as time went on, but I kept reading because I was so curious about the point of Selin’s seemingly pointless observations. Many people found this book funny, but I didn’t until after I was done with it. That is when the ridiculousness of a lot of it hit me. I laughed a lot while reflecting upon it.

This is not a book for everyone. If you are considering reading it, I think it’s important to be aware of two things.

First, it’s long and entirely one type of narrative style. You must be able to tolerate Selin’s voice. It can be witty, but you have to be able to appreciate her particular brand of snark.

Second, there isn’t much of a plot. It mostly made up a series of unconnected events. In this way, the book is quite realistic, especially for a college student.

Watch my youtube video on The Idiot:

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