Amy P. Knight

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

It seems like it’s going to be a coming of age novel–naive daughter of immigrants goes off to Harvard–but it turns out not to be. Instead it just seems like Selin’s naïveté endures. I haven’t read the Dostoevsky so I’m sure there’s a whole level to read it on that I missed, but I mostly got an innocent sweetness as she has a quasi-relationship with Ivan, who is older, although it stays chaste; makes friends with Svetlana; travels to Paris, then Hungary. The The texture remains the same, centered on the way Selin experiences things–relatively straightforwardly, and charitably–from the early chapters at Harvard through her travels. It read enjoyably and smoothly, although there was no particular source of tension. It meandered, pleasantly enough. I expected the relationship with Ivan to feel more central than it ultimately did.