BookBrowse Reviews Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Either/Or

by Elif Batuman

Either/Or by Elif Batuman X
Either/Or by Elif Batuman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2022, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2023, 368 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


In Elif Batuman's loose sequel to The Idiot, Selin returns for her second year at Harvard and tries to make sense of her relationship with Ivan while contemplating the works of Søren Kierkegaard.

"I felt that this is what I was fighting against, and always had been: the tyranny of the particular, arbitrary way that things happened to have turned out."

Elif Batuman's debut novel, The Idiot, published in 2017, chronicles a year in the life of Harvard freshman Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants who has vague notions of becoming a writer and thinks she may achieve this goal by looking closely at the way language works. Though she is derailed from her objective, the events of Batuman's first novel take Selin on an odyssey through the Hungarian countryside in the summer between her freshman and sophomore years as she chases the affections of an aloof older student, Ivan, who has just graduated and is about to move to California.

Either/Or picks up where The Idiot leaves off; Selin has just arrived at her sophomore dorm, and though she hasn't spoken to Ivan since their trip to Hungary in July, she anticipates an email from him explaining everything: why he encouraged her to come to Hungary only to act coldly toward her and what the exact nature of their relationship is. As no such email awaits Selin in her inbox, she turns to external sources to try to make sense of her own feelings for Ivan: she reads Tatyana's monologue from Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Kierkegaard's Either/Or (see Beyond the Book) and André Breton's Nadja; she listens to Fiona Apple and the Fugees; she audits a literature course called Chance which explores "chance as an artistic praxis, a conduit to the subconscious."

Though it can be read as a standalone novel, part of the charm of Either/Or is in the reader having followed Selin's journey from its inception. Readers who opt to read only Either/Or will not be missing out on many critical plot details that can't be inferred, but they will undoubtedly draw less satisfaction from seeing the extension of Selin's character arc.

Following in The Idiot's footsteps, Either/Or is a relatively plotless endeavor, and will not appeal to readers who need a fast-paced story to keep them engaged. But for the more contemplative reader, this pair of novels is nothing short of a delight. The strength of both books is Selin's incisive narrative voice. In turns dark, funny and philosophical, Batuman's writing is what makes her novels shine so bright, and stand out among a sea of books about disaffected, romantically doomed young women.

Selin is a self-conscious narrator, and the question of whether she is living a life worthy of being the protagonist of a novel underscores her own observations. "Love was dangerous, violent, with an element of something repulsive; attraction had a permeable border with repulsion. Love had death in it, and madness. To try to escape those things was immature and anti-novelistic," she reflects, while questioning whether she may be attracted to women (the answer is no, as she believes the discomfort she feels around men must herald some greater significance). Selin's sexuality, only an incidental element to her relationship with Ivan in The Idiot, takes on a more central role in Either/Or, one element of many which Batuman chooses to deftly expound upon in this sequel, as Selin relentlessly questions the meaning of the things happening around her, as well as her own role in them.

Batuman's novels may not be for everyone; they are designed to appeal primarily to those with enough patience to read hundreds of pages of a character thinking, rather than doing. But fans of The Idiot and readers who see their own awkward undergraduate experiences and self-conscious thoughts reflected in Selin's story are destined to love Either/Or just as much as its predecessor. It feels like a gift, for readers who became so invested in Selin, that Batuman has allowed us to read the next chapter in her journey.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

This review first ran in the May 18, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Søren Kierkegaard

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Either/Or, try these:

  • Cult Classic jacket

    Cult Classic

    by Sloane Crosley

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    Hilariously insightful and delightfully suspenseful, Cult Classic is an original: a masterfully crafted tale of love, memory, morality, and mind control, as well as a fresh foray into the philosophy of romance.

  • We Do What We Do in the Dark jacket

    We Do What We Do in the Dark

    by Michelle Hart

    Published 2023

    About this book

    A novel about a young woman's life-altering affair with a much older, married woman.

We have 5 read-alikes for Either/Or, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Elif Batuman
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...
  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.