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Reviews of Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Either/Or

by Elif Batuman

Either/Or by Elif Batuman X
Either/Or by Elif Batuman
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2022, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2023, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the acclaimed and bestselling author of The Idiot, the continuation of beloved protagonist Selin's quest for self-knowledge, as she travels abroad and tests the limits of her newfound adulthood.

Selin is the luckiest person in her family: the only one who was born in America and got to go to Harvard. Now it's sophomore year, 1996, and Selin knows she has to make it count. The first order of business: to figure out the meaning of everything that happened over the summer. Why did Selin's elusive crush, Ivan, find her that job in the Hungarian countryside? What was up with all those other people in the Hungarian countryside? Why is Ivan's weird ex-girlfriend now trying to get in touch with Selin? On the plus side, it feels like the plot of an exciting novel. On the other hand, why do so many novels have crazy abandoned women in them? How does one live a life as interesting as a novel—a life worthy of becoming a novel—without becoming a crazy abandoned woman oneself?

Guided by her literature syllabus and by her more worldly and confident peers, Selin reaches certain conclusions about the universal importance of parties, alcohol, and sex, and resolves to execute them in practice—no matter what the cost. Next on the list: international travel.

Unfolding with the propulsive logic and intensity of youth, Either/Or is a landmark novel by one of our most brilliant writers. Hilarious, revelatory, and unforgettable, its gripping narrative will confront you with searching questions that persist long after the last page.

The First Week

It was dark when I got to Cambridge. I pulled my mother's suitcase over the cobblestones toward the river. Riley had been really mad when we were assigned to Mather, and not to one of the historic ivy-covered brick buildings where young men had lived in ancient times with their servants. But I wasn't into history, so I liked that the rooms in Mather were all singles, and nobody had to figure out how to share an irregularly sized suite where people had lived with their servants.

I hadn't spoken to Ivan since July, when we said goodbye in a parking lot on the Danube. We hadn't exchanged phone numbers, since we were both going to be traveling, and anyway we never had talked much on the phone. But I had never doubted that, when I got back to school, I would find an email from him, explaining everything. It was not, after all, conceivable that there was no explanation, or that the explanation could come from anyone else, or that it could come in any way other than email...

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Reviews

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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. Following in The Idiot's footsteps, it 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...continued

Full Review (634 words)

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(Reviewed by Rachel Hullett).

Media Reviews

Esquire, "The Best Books of Spring 2022"
This winning follow-up to The Idiot, Batuman's virtuoso debut novel, reunites us with Selin, her bold, brainy protagonist ... From its S&M-themed dorm parties to its messy email love triangles, Either/Or is a witty, bighearted triumph about its unforgettable heroine's journey of becoming.

New York Times
Batuman has a gift for making the universe seem, somehow, like the benevolent and witty literary seminar you wish it were...This novel wins you over in a million micro-observations.

Booklist (starred review)
Selin, the magnetic protagonist in Batuman's brilliant and comedic first novel, The Idiot (2017), returns...Month by month, Batuman's brainy, attentive, outspoken narrator grapples with the absurd (literary pretension, academics, sex) and the sublime (literature, music, sex)...Through it all, valiant Selin reads and ponders the human condition, culminating in a breath-catching ending that will leave spellbound readers hoping for more from Batuman's bright and witty adventurer of conscience.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Selin is a disarming narrator, tossing off insights that are revelatory, moving, and laugh-out-loud funny—sometimes all at once—and it's exciting to watch her become the author of her own story. Another delightfully cerebral and bighearted novel from a distinctive voice in contemporary fiction.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this effervescent sequel to The Idiot, Batuman continues charting the sentimental education of Selin, a student of Russian literature at Harvard...As accomplished as The Idiot was, this improves upon it, and Batuman's already sharp chops as a novelist come across as even more refined in these pages. Readers will be enraptured.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Søren Kierkegaard

Sketch of Soren KierkegaardBorn in 1813 in Copenhagen, Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian best known for his critical discourse on the Christian faith, which solicited both critics and admirers while he was alive. Known today as the "father of existentialism," he was one of the first philosophers to delve into themes that would be further explored in the existentialist movement (the subjectivity of human existence, and the question of authenticity, or the degree to which one's actions dovetail with their values).

He was the seventh and final child of a wealthy family. His father, a retired businessman, led a somber life, and Kierkegaard grew up under the shadow of a strange tale that he often told, about having once cursed God as a ...

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Read-Alikes

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