Ebook overview: ‘Either/Or’ is Elif Batuman’s sequel to ‘The Idiot’ | Leisure

Do you bear in mind what it felt prefer to be a university sophomore? The Jell-O photographs, cookie dough and moments of abject humiliation and terror as you tried, oh so self-importantly, to determine how you can reside?

Elif Batuman brings again the tedium and exhilaration of undergraduate life in “Either/Or,” a captivating, mordantly humorous follow-up to her first novel, “The Idiot.”

Selin, the overachieving daughter of Turkish immigrants and Batuman’s alter ego, spent a lot of that guide mooning over Ivan, an older, emotionally unavailable boy in her Russian class. Hence the title, “The Idiot,” a reference to Fyodor Dostoevsky and the widely clueless conduct of younger individuals all over the place.

In “Either/Or,” whose title nods to the Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard’s treatise on the aesthetic versus the moral life, Selin decides to go for the previous and turn into the author she has longed to be since childhood. “I found the idea of an aesthetic life to be tremendously compelling,” she says. “It was the first time I had heard of an organizing principle or goal you could have for your life, other than making money and having kids.”

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The remainder of the novel is dedicated to the query of how—and whether or not it’s OK when nearly all her family and friends members have opted for the opposite, presumably extra moral, life. She will learn Andre Breton’s surrealist work “Nadja” however surprise why the titular character has to go loopy and find yourself alone.

Besides her beloved books, Selin additionally seeks knowledge within the films and pop songs of the period, the late Nineteen Nineties; resolves to lose her virginity; and consults a psychiatrist to take care of unexplained crying jags. It all makes for an eventful yr, albeit one recounted in a meandering, stream-of-consciousness model that threatens at occasions to sap the guide of its narrative energy.

Happily, the guide ends with a bang when Selin occurs upon Henry James’ “The Portrait of a Lady” and eventually discovers an admirable feminine function mannequin within the fictional Isabel Archer. “The work of art she was creating was her own character,” Selin says. “From this perspective, the aesthetic wasn’t really the opposite of the ethical. The way Isabel wanted to be, and act, and seem, was generous and brave.”

The triumphal ending, coming after a whole bunch of pages of sophomore angst, means that Selin is properly on her technique to changing into Batuman, an achieved novelist and New Yorker workers author. You go, woman!

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