“Either / or,” continued “The Idiot,” Elif Batuman, will make you want more

Book review

When we last met Celine, the unique heroine of Eliza Batuman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Idiot, she spent the summer after her first year at Harvard College teaching in a Hungarian village, and it was an opportunity that Ivan, her ambiguous love interest, encouraged. to pursue. When “Or / Or” begins, Celine returns to Cambridge in 1996, embarrassed by Ivan’s lack of romantic accomplishments when she visited his hometown.

Celine, a Turkish-American Russian literature that is “unlike other people in many ways,” including her fresh overview of the world, her status never kissed and her size 11 1/2 feet, rarely obeys conventionality.

Like Batum, who is immersed in “Or / Or”, not reminiscent of the year of “The Idiot” Selin. Fortunately, Selina’s friend Svetlana gives a resume, noting that Ivan “terrorized her with ambiguous letters about sex, even though he already had a girlfriend, and led her on a wild chase to a Hungarian village, then disappeared, and now he will not talk to her ».

Heartbroken, Celine analyzes what happened with her favorite methods – reading, thinking, emailing and watching. Celine goes in search of to pass by Ivan, bring her back and enjoy the hot maiden summer, but these classic lessons of the literary heroine will be played out in completely unexpected and fun ways, in part because Celine is very good at noticing the flourishing of eccentricity inside everyday. “Could his name really be a ‘grimace’?” She asks the cheerful purple McDonald’s drop character.

Celine sees college not as a professional training, but as a way to understand life. She is dissatisfied with the available specialties: “Why were the most important subjects considered only indirectly? Why wasn’t there a love department? ” She picks up Kierkegaard’s “Or / Or” and “The Diary of a Tempter” in an attempt to understand the rules of love, and when she reads the 1995 bestseller “Rules: The Proven Secrets of Capturing Mr. Law’s Heart,” she confirms what she received from Kierkegaard. Flaubert and her experience with Ivan.

“Nothing in the Rules was news, for sure: the eternal defeat of non-lame women, the insignificance of their ‘honesty’, the way they so often ended up marrying lame guys who were initially rejected as tedious.”

While the pursuit of love provides a superficial tension of “Or / Or,” Celine also explores the nature of conquest and resistance, domination, and submission. Even Pilates offers Celine lessons: “The magic of placing mats has been very intense, so I felt I understood the primary conflicts over land that formed the basis of modern history.”

The 1990s, in retrospect, were an era of falling walls and loosely deployed Pilates mats. At the Selina Ukrainian Research Institute, researchers are touching people who “believed that a word in the Ukrainian language is the same as in Russian.”

Celine is unhinderedly planning summer plans by signing up for an update to Turkey’s “Let’s Go” guide, including a stop in the Syrian border town and then an internship in Moscow. The current global disasters haunt these ridiculous passages, reinforcing the atmosphere of sweet bitter longing in the novel.

If “The Idiot” was a story of innocence, “Or / Or” is a chronicle of an experience that will make Batuman fans demand a story about Selin’s junior year.


“Or / or: a novel”

Elif Batuman, Penguin Press, 368 pp., $ 27

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