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  • Writer's pictureCharles Arrowsmith

Review: Either/Or by Elif Batuman (Washington Post)

“Either/Or” is a sequel that amplifies the meaning of its predecessor while expanding its philosophical ambit — in short, the best kind. Elif Batuman picks up the story of Selin Karadağ, the wry heroine of “The Idiot ” (2017), in her sophomore year at Harvard. As she observes the absurdities of college life circa 1996 and the rules and beliefs that seem to govern contemporary behavior, she asks herself vital questions about love, life, literature and what Alanis Morissette is really for.

In the final paragraph of “The Idiot,” Selin returned from a summer in Hungary spent obliquely, unsuccessfully pursuing love with Ivan, a mathematician. Her conclusion — “I hadn’t learned anything at all” — was a withering punchline for a book disguised as a bildungsroman. In fact, far from delivering life lessons, the collapse of Selin’s unrealized romance seemed to represent a total breakdown in meaning, and she ended up abandoning her study of linguistics in disgust. In the opening chapters of “Either/Or,” as the stalemate with Ivan continues, she becomes depressed. She cries a lot. Her mother suggests antidepressants. Gradually, stimulated by her reading — and revived by Zoloft — Selin is drawn back into her quest for meaning: for ways both to live and to write fiction.

For the review in full, visit The Washington Post.

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