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The Idiot

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  29,822 ratings  ·  4,096 reviews
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, b
Hardcover, 423 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Penguin Press
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Becky If you're looking for a romantic book you'll want to walk on by. This definitely would disappoint you. …moreIf you're looking for a romantic book you'll want to walk on by. This definitely would disappoint you. (less)

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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  29,822 ratings  ·  4,096 reviews

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Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an interesting novel, dense, unique, written from a very specific point of view. One of those books where I marvel that it was published and am grateful it was published because, I mean, who wants to read the same type of book over and over? As someone who went to college in the 90s, not far from where much of this novel takes place, I felt an unexpected amount of nostalgia for that first year of college where you know nothing but think you know everything and are surrounded by people w ...more
Jessica Sullivan
2.5/5 Stars.

I had a really complicated relationship with this book. On the surface, it appears to have everything I enjoy in a novel—a quirky protagonist, smart insights, dry humor, a character-driven narrative—but if I'm being honest, it was completely tedious and desperate for some more extensive editing.

It's a Bildungsroman story about a Turkish-American girl named Selin who begins her freshman year at Harvard University. Selin is awkward, insecure and unprepared for this next part of her lif
With the abrupt sadness of The Idiot's final sentence, I felt a near-physical wrench, as if forcibly separated from someone who had swiftly become a good friend. I probably read the second half of the book too quickly – I loved it so much, and wish I'd taken more time to savour it – but once I'd started, I just couldn't stop.

The eponymous idiot is 18-year-old Harvard freshman Selin (though with all the Russian influences popping up throughout the story, the title is clearly intended to evoke Dos
Sometimes, I finish a book and I don’t know how I feel about it.

This happens a lot of times, in fact. And I have two main strategies for dealing with it. In one, I rate it approximately, confidently say review to come, wait four months (I’m in the midst of a major backlog, okay, I’m not any more a fan of it than you are. In fact I’m probably way less of a fan, because it spares you from having to experience my reviews - a definitively good thing - while it only makes me aware of the fact that I
Barry Pierce
I was ready to give up on The Idiot at page 100. There was no distinct plot - nothing major seemed to be happening except for a girl describing her classes at university. But I persisted. Thank god for that.

The Idiot is the story of Selin, a student at Harvard in the mid-90s. The mid-90s were strange time to be at university. Selin begins her tale with the line, 'I didn’t know what email was until I got to college.' Batuman is obsessed with liminality, or the state of being in between. Selin's w
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley, on-kindle
I really hate when books with titles like The Idiot make me feel like I’m the person the title is referring to. This book is either really smart or faux smart, and I don’t feel smart enough to figure out which of the two it is (though I’m kind of leaning towards “faux smart” to make myself feel better). Side note: Faux Smart would be an amazing band name. Maybe one word, like Fauxsmart? I expect to be credited in the future debut Fauxsmart album!!!

I get the sense that this was written in the tra
Jul 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
I suppose it's appropriate that one of the recurring themes in Elif Batuman's The Idiot is the sensation of being trapped – in conversation, in a situation, in a location. Because about two-thirds of the way through this frustrating and tedious novel, I realized I too was trapped – too curious to simply jettison the story, all too aware that the plot was heading into ever more stagnant territory. In the end, I couldn't help but feel that the title, although ostensibly a reference to the Dostoyev ...more
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american
Facebook Bound

I knew I should have kept a diary after I left secondary school. Not that I had experienced anything extraordinary in my young adulthood, but it could have proved useful for writerly gaps in later life. On the other hand if my diary was as tedious and banal as Batuman’s, I would have destroyed it as an embarrassing mistake.

To say that The Idiot is pointless might sound severe. Batuman writes grammatical sentences and believable dialogue. But the sentences and dialogue drone on endl
Mar 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018-read, usa
DNF at around 70 % of the audiobook - I rarely DNF books, but I am so bored right now that I am starting to get aggressive, and we don't want that, do we? :-) Let's try to give a fair account of what this book is about: Selin is a freshman at Harvard, she tries to find her own path in life and her search strategy is highly influenced by the things she learns about language at school. Batuman is trying to bring together linguistic/literary theory and its application in everyday life when she desc ...more
Elyse  Walters
Library Overdrive by the author Elif Batuman

I loved this book. I equally adored Elif Batuman’s seductively-innocent-child-sounding voice. I had no idea what to expect. The first time I looked at this book was a few weeks ago when in San Francisco with a Goodreads friends in Citylights book store. I still haven’t read any reviews- all I knew was that this was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Who doesn’t remember their freshman year of college - if you went? And tra
(3.5) This is such an odd debut novel that, though I ultimately thought it a very funny anti-Bildungsroman, I’d hesitate to recommend it too widely. Nostalgia for pre-technology college days, some familiarity with Eastern European literature (especially the absurdist tradition), and a fascination with linguistic theory and foreign languages would be good prerequisites for enjoying this – but then again, none of those criteria are quite valid for me.

In brief, this is Selin’s account of her freshm
Helene Jeppesen
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! I admit I was a bit sceptical going into this book because it’s a novel that seems to split the waters. But I LOVED it!
“The Idiot” is a coming-of-age story (a genre that I love) that speaks to my linguistic heart. We follow Selin who starts at Harvard college as a student of language, and we get to be inside her head when she observes the world, the people around her, the language they use, and the culture they come from. It feels like we are living inside a bubble with her that doesn’t re
Julie Ehlers
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Idiot is a hard book to review, because everything about it comes down to personal taste. There's no plot or narrative arc to speak of—the book just follows our narrator, 18-year-old Selin, as she goes through her first year of college and a summer abroad. We hear about everything that happens to her, and especially everything she thinks about. So even if the lack of plot doesn't bother you, it still really comes down to whether you enjoy being in Selin's company. I can speak only for myself ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Part of my warm feelings to this book must be because the author is reflecting so much of my own experience, that era (95-96) of life-changing technology and the normalization of the internet right at the gateway to college, with suddenly changing relationships and interactions, especially how email changed flirtations!
"I began to feel that I was living two lives - one consisting of emails with Ivan, the other consisting of school."
Selin is the main character, a Turkish American studying lingui
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
[Svetelena said] I lived by aesthetic principles, whereas she, who had been raised on Western philosophy, was doomed to live boringly be ethical principles. It had never occurred to me to think of aesthetics and ethics as opposites. I thought ethics were aesthetic. “Ethics” meant the golden rule, which was basically an aesthetic rule. That’s why it was called “golden” like the golden ratio. “Isn’t that why you don’t cheat or steal – because it’s ugly” I said

I read this novel due to its longl
Michael Ferro
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novel is a slow burn, but it's a pleasant warmth—not a scorching fire of excitement. But it's not meant to be either. Batuman has delivered a delightful, excruciatingly smart work of literary fiction that so perfectly captures the confusion of young love. For anyone who has ever felt "different," or a bit separated from a common reality, THE IDIOT is in your wheelhouse.

Batuman is a writer's writer, giving us what our brain craves and doesn't waste our time with the cheap thrills that other
Alice Lippart
I feel like most of this book just went completely over my head. I don't get it :) ...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
This hit the spot for me, but I absolutely see why it has driven other people nuts. Video review here: ...more
♛ may
i,,,,,,,,,do not know what i just read

this book is really weird bc i know its meant to be written in a 'stream-of-conscious' type of narrative that is supposed to be limitless and all over the place and yet i hate it.

i know it's supposed to be all existentialist and deeply moving and profound bc it makes no sense and apparently that's supposed to be a reflection & commentary on the ~meaning of life and such (this is what all the ~fancy professional literature people~ tried to make me believe)

The Idiot is a book you either click with or you don't. I absolutely understand why some readers have found it maddening. I can't recall the last book I read where less happened than it did here, which, considering that it's nearly a five-hundred page book, is kind of a triumph in its own right. But I got along with The Idiot splendidly.

This is quiet, sparse, cerebral, philosophical, surprisingly humorous account of a Turkish-American girl's first year at Harvard. In one of her Russian classes s
Aug 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
After listening this book, had to think about it long and hard before writing a review. First of all only reason I wanted to read was author is a daughter of Turkish parents. Places she was visiting was exciting places I would love to visit or lived in. But this book is definitely for twenty something age group, just going to university and discovering what life is about.
Hannah Knight
May 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2017
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Umut Rados
I read 30% of this book falling for the cover and the fact that it's on the long list for Women's Prize.
Sadly I had to DNF it because I'm bored to death! I think there will be people who will like this style of writing, but it's just not for me. For a book to take me in, there needs to be one of these elements:
-Beautiful writing that I will admire. In this one, the sentences are short, feels choppy. Very daily language, I feel like I'm reading someone's journal during college days in a very sim
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Just loved this. While reading, I kept feeling like I had read versions of this before -- a rambling story about a cerebral main character who as a young person confronts a bewildering world of eccentric characters and odd situations without ever quite mastering them, instead always (mis)reading the world like a puzzling text - but, typically, such novels have a male protagonist. (I kept thinking of Confederacy of Dunces, actually, while reading this, largely because of some echo in the tone). S ...more
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I won a copy of The Idiot by Elif Batuman here on Goodreads and couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, I didn't love it. This is a novel in which nothing truly happens: nothing good, nothing bad, and nothing exciting. At over four hundred pages of what read like a rambling stream of consciousness, I never felt invested in the story or connected with any of the characters. Intelligently written with occasional dry humor and several interesting facts, it wasn't an unpleasant read; however, it is ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
[3+] The Idiot is a meandering novel about the musings of a freshman at Harvard. Like Dostevesky's idiot, she is quite smart but unworldly. After reading several reviews, I was prepared for nothing to happen, but I still had to tap into my inner patience to get through these 423 pages. What saved the novel for me was Batuman's dry wit. At times this novel was laugh-aloud funny. I also liked the literary references - like Selin referring to the cloak-like coat she bought at Filene's as Gogolian. ...more
Jan 04, 2017 rated it liked it
The first 300 or so pages would merit a solid 4 star rating (at least) in my opinion, its just the ending that I real can't get behind. I see in the acknowledgment that the first part was written in 2001-ish, meaning that this portion likely underwent the most editing/revising, which is maybe why I appreciate it more than the rest, the end just feels completely rushed and of sync with the rest of the novel.

Maybe its the academic in me but I really enjoyed 1995-ish Harvard, this was also the set
Eric Anderson
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel made me feel nostalgic. Set at Harvard in the mid-to-late 1990s Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot” follows a freshman named Selin as she navigates the uncertain territory of college life, young love and finding a direction in life. I went to college at this exact same time in Boston (at a much smaller, non-ivy league school) and shared many of Selin’s experiences of starting to use email for the first time and riding on the T or the MBTA subway around the city. Selin comes from a privileged T ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

But seriously.
My fucking lord.
Staff writer for the New Yorker?
Oh dear.
Oh dear oh dear.
Got to chuckle, right, brother?

Proofs are free, time is not.
I promise to order absolutely zero of these in when we sell out, when it is in paperback.

Pulp it. Pulp it. Pulp it!

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Elif Batuman is an American author, academic, and journalist. Born in New York City to Turkish parents, she grew up in New Jersey. She graduated from Harvard College and received her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford University, where she taught.

Batuman is currently the writer-in-residence at Koç University. While in graduate school, she studied the Uzbek language in Samarkand, Uz

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