Tom Lutz handpicks four books a year and conducts an exclusive book club with LARB members. Books are shipped to your door in advance. The book club meeting is held on Facebook; the author joins the meeting for a day to chat with members; and all are sent an exclusive interview between Tom and the author, either by video or audio stream, and sometimes even for a live event.

For questions about Tom’s Book Club, email us at membership@lareviewofbooks.org.


 

by Beowulf Sheehan

Our Next Book Club

THE IDIOT by ELIF BATUMAN

“Selin is entrancing — so smart, so clueless, so funny — and Batuman’s exceptional discernment, comedic brilliance, and soulful inquisitiveness generate a charmingly incisive and resonant tale of the messy forging of a self.”

Booklist (starred review)

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About THE IDIOT

The Idiot takes a kind of story that we all think we know well, and turns it completely on its head. Batuman’s novel reminds us that to be American means to be from elsewhere. Our heroine, Selin, is the daughter of Turkish immigrants who enters her freshman year at Harvard with the quest to become a writer — or at least, she is enthralled with finding the meaning of language. She studies linguistics, enrolls in beginning Russian, teaches English as a second language at a community housing project, and begins a rather chaste love affair with an older Hungarian mathematics student, Ivan, which becomes frustratingly complicated — this being the mid-nineties — by the introduction of email.

Selin is delightful company: “She’s smart enough to know the ways in which she is dumb, and her off-kilter relationship to the world around her is revelatory and, often, mordantly hilarious” (Kirkus Reviews). She is both worldly and innocent, as only an 18 year-old can be, but her questions are profound: How does culture and language shape our experience? What defines love?

Selin’s adventures remind us of both the uneasiness and the freedom of young adulthood — the world is intoxicating with possibilities and yet dauntingly frustrating. Batuman lets us revel in that dichotomy with her keen observations and sly wit. It is a treasure to be in her hands.

“[A] wonderful first novel, a bildungsroman Selin narrates with fluent wit and inexorable intelligence . . . Batuman updates the grand tour travelogue just as she does the epistolary novel and the novel of ideas, in prose as deceptively light as it is ambitious. One character wonders whether it’s possible ‘to be sincere without sounding pretentious,’ and this long-awaited and engrossing novel delivers a resounding yes.”

Publisher Weekly (starred review)

“I’m not Turkish, I don’t have a Serbian best friend, I’m not in love with a Hungarian, I don’t go to Harvard. Or do I? For one wonderful week, I got to be this worldly and brilliant, this young and clumsy and in love. The Idiot is a hilariously mundane immersion into a world that has never before received the 19th Century Novel treatment. An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down.”

Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man and It Chooses You


About ELIF BATUMAN

Elif Batuman has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for Humor, she also holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University. The Idiot is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.