Elif Batuman’s modus operandi seems to be writing books that take their titles from Dostoevsky. Perhaps the greatest gift I got from reading this was the desire to re-read Dosty’s version of The Idiot.
That’s not to say that this isn’t a great book in parts. I thoroughly enjoyed the parts that took place on the Harvard campus during Selin’s freshman year, as she tries on various classes and grapples with roommates (and their sleep apnea). But then she follows a boy she likes to Hungary, Ivan, and teaches ESL to kids there. Meh. It is uneven, at best.
In the Harvard sections, she’s wrestling with big meaty questions and diving into linguistics, Russian, philosophy, literature. I learned the word “amphibrach” from her, where the middle syllable is accented (spaghetti, appendix).
Mostly I’m looking forward to reading Dostoevsky now.