The Idiot, Elif Batuman

It stands to reason that if you are familiar with Eastern European fiction- or in this case, Fyodor Dostoyevsky- the title of Batuman’s novel may resonate. It’s an interesting introduction into Batuman’s story about Selin, the main character whose challenge it seems is to discover enough about herself and to become a writer.

The attractive part of this novel isn’t so much the plot, which ends up being a winding but simplistic road of ups and downs with no real cataclysmic atrocities. Instead, Batuman finds her groove through her humor- a deadpan, straight-forward mode of transportation on which the story climbs onto the back of. In a review I came across on GoodReads, the reviewer stated that it was the bluntness in the way the book was written that made it that much more attractive. Possibly, Batuman drew not just content but writing style from Dostoyevsky and others of his time.

Regardless, the novel was an expo for Batuman to display what she’s an expert on. The Idiot revolves around linguistic education and theory, although the reader doesn’t have to be familiar with the nuances of it all. She’s funny, with a dry sense of humor that carries well off the page, but also relatable to those who remember a time period when technology wasn’t so heavily relied on and when we were just beginning to discover the capabilities it created.

In one scene, Selin discusses with her therapist an email conversation with her love interest. It’s made her life more confusing because of the fact that the discussion did not take place in person but via technology. Batuman explains through her characters the difficulties every person has experienced by over-thinking unspoken words and conversations. Herein lies the issue; Technology allows us to have the ability to read shit over and over again, to a point of insanity. It’s at this point that the novel becomes more than a piece-by-piece account of a young woman’s freshman collegiate experience and dives into the development of becoming a vocal grievance toward the conundrum that technology has placed on social interaction and relationships. Batuman grasps this issue from the roots, uncovering the seeds and the birth of the advancement in technology that has helped us both grow and demise as a society.

And so Batuman, purposefully or not, reveals a maze of underlying connections. Her book revolves around linguistic theory and communication, yet she gives us a character that struggles, not only with her dream to become a writer, but also the onslaught of a computerized relationship-first world. Indirectly, Batuman gives us her tribute to her beloved Eastern European writers whose obsessions with social topics engraved their permanent standing in the literary universe. The Idiot was a fascinating read that became even more engrained in my brain a few days after finishing it when I found that I couldn’t stop thinking back on it. An impressive feat in literary culture is when an author can connect through so many outlets, and I believe Batuman succeeded entirely.


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