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Elif Batuman’s new coming-of-age novel blurs the line between memoir and fiction

This pleasantly rambling tale, narrated by a smart but hesistant linguistics student, leaves a vivid impression

The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape, £16.99)

In her acclaimed first book, The Possessed (2010), an unstuffy work of non-fiction about Russian literature, the Turkish-American writer Elif Batuman blurred the boundaries between memoir and criticism.

Her charming new book—a gentle coming-of-age novel drawing on Batuman’s time at Harvard in the mid-1990s—does the same for memoir and fiction.

It’s narrated by Selin, a smart but hesistant linguistics student with a crush on Ivan, a maths major from Hungary who sends her riddling late-night emails.

When she follows him home for the summer…

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