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Harvard Square

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3.29 of 5 stars 3.29  ·  rating details  ·  472 ratings  ·  118 reviews
A powerful tale of love, friendship, and becoming American in late ’70s Cambridge from the best-selling novelist.

"If you like brave, acute, elated, naked, brutal, tender, humane, and beautiful prose, then you’ve come to the right place.”—Nicole Krauss

Cambridge, 1977: A Harvard graduate student, a Jew from Egypt, is preparing to become the assimilated American professor he
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Hardcover, First Edition, 292 pages
Published April 8th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Jan Rice
(Originally reviewed June, 2014)

The Unredeemed Redeemer*

In your youth did you ever have an ostensible peer, a friend, who had an outsized impact on you, who seemed more than a peer or friend? Not someone you could marry or even hold onto; more of a force of nature? And not an ordinary mentor in your work or craft, but a life mentor?

This would be someone who could leave you with the hint of an idea as to how the belief in individuals with salvific capability arose.... Maybe somebody like that Kev
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Trish
The first time I read anything by André Aciman was an essay called "On Loss and Regret," published in the Opinion section of The New York Times. I remember after a paragraph or two looking with startled curiosity at the name under the title again. Who is this man who writes with such clarity of matters of the mind and heart, and about how we deceive ourselves? Sometimes we ourselves do not even know what we think, but this man appears to see. Since that time--February 2013—I ordered several of h ...more
Stephen P
A book that presented itself for what it was, an enjoyable 3 star book with a couple of interesting characters. I would call it an honest book not promising anything more than it is; a trip back to student academia with all of its self indulgences and passions mildly exaggerated. I would recommend it for good bedtime reading.
Elaine
May 09, 2013 Elaine rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Ugh, first I waited too long to review (flu and too much work), and then Goodreads ate my review. So now what?

I can sum up my problems with this book rather succinctly: While Kalaj, the compelling, charming, abrasive, manipulative and ultimately self-destructive foil for our narrator is well drawn, the narrator himself is a big blank - an empty and not very convincing shell. That lack gives the book a hollow core.

And then the book just meanders - I wondered about Aciman's self-editing on this o
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Gerhard
What an extraordinary novel this is, even more ambitious than Call Me By Your Name. Whereas that novel dealt with an overtly gay relationship, Harvard Square delicately explores the intimate nuances of the evolution, and ultimate dissolution, of an unlikely male friendship.

The unnamed narrator is an Egyptian Jew and Harvard graduate student. He meets Kalaj, a Tunisian Muslim cabdriver, in a cafe one day, and is instantly drawn to his rhetoric and outgoing personality. The two could not be less a
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David Hallman
A Surprise, But Not the Good Kind – André Aciman’s “Harvard Square”

I had high expectations for André Aciman’s new novel “Harvard Square.” Friends spoke highly of an earlier novel of his. I enjoyed a recent essay by Aciman in the New York Times on “How Memoirists Mold the Truth.” He is a Proust scholar, from Egypt originally, and teaches comparative literature at City University in New York where he also directs the Writer’s Institute. With such rich personal history and expertise, I anticipated
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Ron Charles
Longing pulses through all of Andre Aciman’s books — from his celebrated memoir, “Out of Egypt,” to his most recent novel, “Eight White Nights.” He’s a prose poet of confounding desires, an expert on Proust who ruminates on the scent of memories that haunt us.

His new novel, “Harvard Square,” opens with a prologue set in the present day as the narrator guides his unimpressed teenage son around the campus on a college visit. “Everything he sees,” Aciman writes, “seems steeped in a stagnant vat of
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Ronald
I am an eclectic reader. I usually choose a book based on the NY Times review-and the things that appeal to me are quite varied, although they tend to literary fiction. Since my eyesight is poor, I always read on my Kindle--it is easy to adjust the font size and since I no longer drive, I can read in the car, in bed and while waiting for appointments. Time that used to be wasted can now be dedicated to books that I would never have been able to read.

I downloaded Harvard Square the same day I rea
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Wassila
Best novel I read so far this year. Beautifully written. Great passages on the difficulty of belonging when one is an immigrant who knows he can't go back "home"... And the awareness that it is hard to belong in a country where you immigrated as a young adult and can't/don't learn the country's language and don't understand (and sometimes refuse to accept) the codes (especially the non official and written ones).
The character of Kalaj is extremely touching despite being really annoying and obnox
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Lisa
Apr 29, 2013 Lisa rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Immigrants, Harvard grads
Shelves: first-reads
I received a copy of this book through First Reads.

Strengths:
-Powerfully portrays the alienation and confusion that permeates any college student's life, but especially that which characterizes the foreign-born college student's life.

-One is drawn into the narrator's interior battle between remaining loyal to a relaxed, Meditteranean-style approach to life and choosing to give in to the pull of the frantic, American "ersatz" lifestyle. As is probably the case amongst many immigrants, the narrato
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Nyjb Reviews
André Aciman is a poet of exile, a chronicler of displacement and its discontents.

Born in 1951 in Alexandria, Egypt to Jewish parents with roots in Turkey and Italy, he and his family were expelled from Egypt by the Arab nationalist regime. When he was 15, the Acimans moved to Italy and four years later to New York.

His first book, the memoir Out of Egypt, was published in 1995 to enthusiastic reviews. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times compared him to Lawrence Durrell, the British author of
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John Pappas
A powerfully evocative tale of a foundational friendship between two émigrés - one, a quiet Egyptian Jew studying at Harvard and the other, an explosive Berber cab driver - who meet at the Café Algiers in Harvard Square one hot summer in the late 1970s. Aciman deftly captures what is like to drown yourself in books and ideas, and open yourself to the world, in a collegiate environment, moving from one passion to the next as you get closer to the you you think you are. (In fact, the frame of the ...more
Greta
I was glad I picked this up from the New Fiction shelf at the library. It patterns itself on Zorba the Greek or The Great Gatsby in that the narrator, who is supposed to be the passive foil to his illustrious subject (in this case a fuming, fomenting, French-speaking Arabic cab-driver [Tunisian?] who spends a good deal of time hanging out in cafes), is obviously the more complicated and morally challenged one. The narrator is an Egyptian doctoral candidate in comparative/French literature at Har ...more
Amy

“I hated almost every member of my department, from the chairman down to the secretary, including my fellow graduate students, hated their mannered pieties, their monastic devotion to their budding profession, their smarmy, patrician airs dressed down to look a touch grungy. I scorned them, but I didn’t want to be like them because I knew that part of me couldn’t, while another wanted nothing more than to be cut from the same cloth.”

A melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging
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Barbara A
I loved almost every single thing about this book, and was able to gulp, greedily, its richness of pathos and humor on one rainy, miserable day at the lake. With a feeling that my cold was about to blossom into a real beaut, I grabbed 'Harvard Square' from a book stack at home and brought it north with me. How fortunate a selection that was.

Except for a prologue I deemed to be completely unnecessary, and whose rhythm and prose read like nothing else in this thoughtfully-written novel, 'Harvard
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Keith
So, a Jew walks into an Arab cafe. This sounds like the lead in for a bad joke but it is rather the opening of a remarkable new novel, Harvard Square, by Andre Aciman. The Jew is a Harvard graduate student from Alexandria, Egypt. He is a diffident student in a strange land, shy, intelligent and well prepared to make his mark in America. The Arab is "Kalaj," a Tunisian immigrant, uneasy in his new home and scathingly critical of everything in "ersatz" America. He is voluble (his nickname is short ...more
Robert Wechsler
2.5 perhaps. André Aciman’s Eight White Nights is a tough act to follow. In that novel, Aciman did such a wonderful job of keeping the reader’s interest in a ridiculous obsessive relationship (all obsessive relationships look ridiculous from the outside, I suppose). It was one of those perfect little novels, and I look forward to reading it again.

Sadly, Harvard Square does not come close. It’s well written, and the second half is far better than the first. But despite the always intrigung theme
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Nancy
Aciman's writing style kept me engaged, but whenever I put the book down I thought, why am I reading this? The framing device was silly -- was the narrator telling his son about all of his sexual escapades and the horrible way he treated women? -- and the narrator often came off as whiny. I thought the book captured the fickleness of a young commitment-phobic man well, and it was interesting to read about a male rather than female gold digger. Kalaj's complexity as a character was definitely the ...more
Toto
Aciman's Out of Egypt is his best work, an honest and organic testament to memory and experience of dislocation. Since then he's been writing the same book (every book he writes is about displacement of some kind and memory of it), but and each new book feels less authentic. This one feels as artificial as a pink Twinky. The writing is stiff and rushed, characters are not believable, and the unrelenting narrative of the "I" suffocates. The more Aciman tries to be Proust-like, the less like him h ...more
Susan
I just found this book at the library and jumped at the chance to read it. And you know what? It was quite good. The story is about a young man from Egypt who is a grad student at Harvard in the humanities. He is Jewish, and never really fits in. At least, that's how he feels. And he is different, kind of a loner, has a hard time making friends, keeping friends, and understanding where he fits in in the world as it relates to Harvard University. He knows he is a foreigner, he know he is dark, an ...more
Peter Goodman

“Harvard Square,” by Andre Aciman (Norton, 2013; audiobook, read by Sanjiv Jhaveri). An unnamed Egyptian Jew graduate student studying literature at Harvard, who failed his first comprehensives and worries that he will fail again and be forced out of the US, encounters a Tunisian Berber cab driver nicknamed Kalashnikov—Kalaj---for his rapid-fire assault on everything American, European, Western: it’s all ersatz, he thunders in French “rat-a-tat-tat.” Almost against his will, over a six-month per
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Kumari
ok I loved it, in the end. I originally found the whole "alienated foreigner" theme to be a bummer and pretty unnecessary, as the tale itself of the time and the area seemed enough to carry the reader through on its own. then there were peeks into more of the outrageously privileged lives of not only Harvard students but then everyone on staff and anyone even tangentially associated with Harvard... this hit me like a lead pipe, especially when the author contrasted their privilege with those pov ...more
Abby
The novel is an emotional tour de force that presents the self-conscious, raw musings of a young immigrant graduate student at Harvard. However, it suffers from a meagre, meandering plot and an anticlimactic conclusion. The author never develops the main character sufficiently to make you care for him, and he remains an ambiguous, uncertain sort of person who is difficult to trust or get to know.
Kathy
I can't remember which list of "recommended books" I saw this book on, but I had made a note of it in my phone so I'd remember to keep looking for it. I'm glad I made that note, got the book, and read it. I'd say it's really 3.5 stars - I liked it, and I'll probably remember it, and I'll probably be drawn to the next book by this author, but it certainly isn't the best thing I've ever read. I felt I knew every character in the book, and I was drawn in to their world. Kalaj is likely to stick wit ...more
Morgan
Not as intimate and moving as I've come to expect from this author. Normally the relationships are so close and frenetic but there's a distance here that I found distracting.
Lilly Marie Amenson
Harvard Square was a good, easy read. Some of the vocabulary was new to me, so I was constantly looking up words and expanding my knowledge of the English language. The story itself was passive aggressive, or rather just passive. It was good to have a narrator whose backstory was so different from my own (Egyptian/Parisian immigrant to the US. This was especially intriguing due to our current immigration "crisis".). That being said, I felt that, at some points, the book was too passive, and that ...more
John Grochalski
if this book doesn't end up on a bunch of year-end "best of" lists it'll be a crime. well-written, thoughtful novels are hard to come by these days.
Margaretflynn
I loved reading about the Square in the 70's. An interesting tale about friendship. I found the writer wandered a bit.
Nisha
If I had to classify the types of novels I enjoy, I suppose they could be put into the category of world literature. I enjoy books that take you somewhere that is impossible to go. Harvard Square is such a book. The setting of Cambridge in 1977 as written through Aciman's eyes has a grittiness that exists in total contrast to the sort of pristine image the idea of of Cambridge and Harvard conjure today. Academia exists alongside the unnamed Egyptian-Jew narrator's life as a poor graduate student ...more
Stephanie Golden
I liked this much less than I thought I would. Its focus on exile and alienation sounded too pat to me, as though he's created this persona which gives him his platform and entire literary career. Like a lot of novels, I thought this one was stronger in the beginning and middle and had a weak ending. I felt the book had a contrived quality.

What's more, Aciman's description of himself is so unappealing that it was hard for me to believe that so many women fell for him--despite the infusion of sex
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André Aciman was born in Alexandria, Egypt and is an American memoirist, essayist, novelist, and scholar of seventeenth-century literature. He has also written many essays and reviews on Marcel Proust. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Condé Nast Traveler as well as in many volumes of The Best American Ess ...more
More about André Aciman...
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“No one starts as a self-hater. But rack up all of your mistakes and take a large enough number of wrong turns in life and soon you stop trying to forgive yourself. Everywhere you look you find shame or failure staring back.” 10 likes
“Perhaps he was a stand-in for who I was, a primitive version of the me I'd lost track of and sloughed off in America. My shadow self, my picture of Dorian Gray, my mad brother in the attic, my Mr Hyde, my very, very rough draft. Me unmasked, unchained, unleashed, unfinished: me untrammeled, me in rags, me enraged. Me without books, without finish, without a green card. Me with a Kalashnikov.” 3 likes
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