Review: The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The Idiot

‘On the first day of college, I stood in line behind a folding table and eventually received an email address and temporary password. The “address” had my last name in it – Karadağ, but all lowercase and without the Turkish ğ, which was silent. From an early age I had understood that a silent was funny. “The g is silent,” I would say in a weary voice, and it was always hilarious. I didn’t understand how the email address was an address, or what it was short for. “What do we do with this, hang ourselves?” I asked, holding up the Ethernet cable’.

Described as ‘A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself’, The Idiot by Elif Batuman is a bildungsroman of sorts. At its epicentre is the awkward Selin, a young woman of Turkish American heritage who is attending Harvard College as an undergraduate student in the mid-nineties. It’s the new age of emails –  a very recent invention that is still finding its place within people’s day to day lives. Traversing the uncertainty of university life, new friendships and young love, Selin provides a dry and witty commentary to her experiences and interactions. Opting to take ‘the less conservative and more generous’ route when confronted with choice, Selin finds herself entangled in a confusing and ever-frustrating tête-à-tête via email which sees her fly off to Hungary in the summer to teach English. As a character intrigued by the use of language and communication, obsessed with reading and finding meaning, The Idiot provides many an opportunity for humour.

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Feminist Sunday #24

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Feminist Sunday is a weekly roundup of all the articles/threads/news/discoveries that include or are about women which have caught my attention and/or interest.

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For the first time ever I wrote out a list of books I wanted to read this month and I’m already falling behind! I can’t believe we’re already halfway through September. On my list are: The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit (I finished that towards the end of last week), This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (which I’m currently reading), a review copy of Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay, another review copy of Belly Up by Rita Bullwinkel, and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Hopefully I’ll pick up the pace a bit in the second half of this month.

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Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Silence of the Girls

‘I lay there, hating him, though of course he wasn’t doing anything he didn’t have a perfect right to do. If his prize of honour had been the armour of a great lord he wouldn’t have rested till he’d tried it out: lifted the shield, picked up the sword, assessed its length and weight, slashed it a few times through the air. That’s what he did to me. He tried me out.’

I remember my first encounter with the work of Pat Barker when I was in the midst of my A Level English Literature classes. We had spent months and months studying the work of men on war, only a handful of lessons were dedicated to female writers writing during or about the First World War, and amongst them was Barker’s Regeneration trilogy published in the nineties. I was mesmerized. Although shell shock, or PTSD, was a common affliction for men who had returned from the front, up until this point in the module we had never read anything specifically exploring the mental strain and after-effects of such a catastrophic and inhumane event.

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Feminist Sunday #23

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Feminist Sunday is a weekly roundup of all the articles/threads/news/discoveries that include or are about women which have caught my attention and/or interest.

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After an unexpected hiatus (the internet was temporarily disconnected), I’m back with my regular posts. In the week of no connection I managed to get a lot of reading done so it had its pros. I got through the rest of The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, I was a bit disappointed by the ending but I will probably write a review of it in the future so won’t say anymore. I read Pat Barker’s recent novel, a feminist retake of The Iliad called The Silence of the Girls, which I received as a digital review copy. I plan to review it for next week. My current read is another Rebecca Solnit book, The Mother of All Questions. Although I would love to own a physical copy (which I can’t find here in Malé) I couldn’t wait so just bought it as an ebook. Again, she does not disappoint!

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Friday Reads: The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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The Woman Destroyed

‘As far as I was concerned life was gradually going to take back everything it had given me: it had already begun to do so’.

I first came to love Simone de Beauvoir through her fiction. Starting with The Blood of Others I found her much more accessible than the numerous attempts I had made on The Second Sex. Often writing about the female experience in post-war torn Paris, de Beauvoir’s novels tend to hinge on the fact that women hadn’t been given the right to vote yet so their whole existence relied heavily on their relationship to men, whether it be their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons. None more so than in the trio of short stories that make up The Woman Destroyed.

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Review: Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things

‘We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.’

‘The Longest War’

Heralded as the precursor to the term ‘mansplaining’ Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays begins with an unassuming evening in which she reluctantly attends a party near Aspen with a friend of hers. As the night progresses, she finds herself talking to the older male host who begins to tell her about a new book he’s recently read a review on in The New York Times. As he details the book with the authority of someone who knows exactly what they’re talking about, Solnit’s friend pipes up that the author of the book is sitting right in front of him; that it is, in fact, Rebecca Solnit who wrote the book. However, the man in question carries on regardless. He proceeds to explain a topic that Solnit is an expert in, having done a huge amount of research for the book in question, all the while knowing very little about the topic himself.

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Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing

‘I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders as even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks. I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned these thirteen years, so Pop will know I’m ready to pull what needs to be pulled, separate innards from muscle, organs from cavaties. I want Pop to know I can get bloody. Today’s my birthday’.

Sing, Unburied, Sing strikes to the core of the American story as it revolves around a poor family living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi weaving past and present seamlessly together in a hauntingly dark tale. The novel opens up with Jojo – the beating, pulsing heart of the novel. He is a young boy having to learn to grow up quickly in a confusingly loving but hostile environment. His mother, Leonie, who was a teenager when she had him, is a drug addict and the father of her children, Michael, is a white man, currently serving time in prison. To add another layer of confusion, Michael’s cousin killed Leonie’s brother in a hunting ‘accident’ when they were younger. It’s fair to say that Michael’s family are particularly hostile towards Leonie and their children, refusing to have anything to do with them.

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Feminist Sunday #22

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Feminist Sunday is a weekly roundup of all the articles/threads/news/discoveries that include or are about women which have caught my attention and/or interest.

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Having the past week off for Eid meant that I got a lot of reading done. I finished Jostein Gaarder’s brilliantly informative and playful take on the history of philosophy in Sophie’s World and treated myself to my first ever Rebecca Solnit book, Men Explain Things To Me, which I devoured in a day, though I had to take regular breaks from the difficult subject matter which revolved mainly around violence against women and girls. I then moved on to Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion which has been an intriguing take on intergenerational relationships between women.

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Friday Reads: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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Elena Ferrante

‘I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods’.

The Story of the Lost Child

For the final Women In Translation Month recommendation I decided to cheat a little and pick the whole Neapolitan Quartet by the phenomenal writer, Elena Ferrante. I remember her books exploding all over social media around four or five years ago and I’m so glad they did because I don’t think I would have read them otherwise (based on the covers alone!).

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