For our book club in September, we read The Idiot by Elif Batuman. The book is set in the 1980’s, so officially historical fiction, and follows a young girl during her first year at Harvard. It’s a coming of age story, a college novel but not in any way you’d expect. Most of our book clubber enjoyed the book, although not everyone felt like they ‘got’ it. The slow style definitely isn’t for everyone, but we all agreed that there was something special about the book anyway.
We’ll recommend some other books you might want to try and we’ll share some discussion questions in case you’re doing research for your own book club.
Reading recommendations for The Idiot
Elif Batuman’s other book, The Possessed, is non-fiction about reading Russian authors. Batuman has a great love for Russian literature and throughout this book, you follow her from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence — including her own.
While reading The Idiot, I kept thinking about Loner by Teddy Wayne, another novel set in Harvard. Written from a different perspective, we follow David through his first year at Harvard. It doesn’t go very well and Selin is definitely better adjusted to life, but it’s just as awkward and strange as The Idiot.
I like recommending a book that either influenced the book or the writer. Of course, The Possessed is filled with books that Batuman likes, I still found another list with even more books. I went with the funniest book she ever read because we all thought The Idiot was funny as well. The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man by Thomas Mann is about a charming young man who prefers high society to the German army and finds a way to get everything he wants in life.
Discussion Questions for The Idiot
- Does language shape your experience? If you’re bilingual, do you feel like a different person in both languages?
- Are the characters unusually likable? Is there a difference in likability between the male and female characters?
- There will be a ‘sequel’ to The Idiot. What part of Selin’s life would you like to read about?
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