THE IDIOT – ELIF BATUMAN

Normal People is one of my favourite books, and it might get annoying for authors to be compared to it, as well as readers wanting differentiation.

This week I draw similarities between it and The Idiot by Elif Batuman.

Set in Harvard around the emergence of email, student Selin is navigating her way through higher education, friendships, relationships and language barriers.

As a non-native American, she decides to take up Russian on top of her other studies, thus complicating her understanding of relationships with other people.

Not much happens in this book, yet many conversations do with trivial things which she is trying to figure out.

This book took Batuman many years to write, where I believe it was inspired by her own experience at Harvard.

I guess we may all feel like an idiot upon reflection of our youth, as we are still trying to figure out the world and ourselves. It’s a collection of her interactions with people and her own experience of a complicated understanding of love with classmate Ivan, who I did not like.

The language barriers between each of the students, including Selin’s (or Sonya as she is also named by others) housemates and friend Svetlana (who I did like), are varied, which is much like Normal People and why it was such a success, as much of it is implicit and does not need to be said.

Whilst learning Russian, Selin emails Ivan in the language where things soon become more complicated as it is unclear as to whether there is an underlying feeling between the two, or if they are just trying to improve their learning. Let’s not forget the complication of him having a girlfriend every other time they meet.

Like any other rich overseas student in novels and films, she manages to travel with her classmates to Paris, Budapest and eventually Hungary, where her relationship with Ivan further confused me – is it a friendship? A relationship?

Whilst it was a very ambiguous novel, I enjoyed it as it was a read of raw emotions, that needn’t be mentioned, between people.

Rating – 4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Genre – fiction, bildungsroman, psychological fiction

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