Either/Or by Elif Batuman - review by Hannah Rosefield

Hannah Rosefield

Life, University & Everything



Jonathan Cape 368pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Elif Batuman’s debut novel, The Idiot (2017), ends in the summer of 1996 with its heroine reflecting that she ‘hadn’t learned anything at all’ during her first year at university. Either/Or opens a few weeks later, with the same heroine, Turkish-American Selin Karadağ, arriving back at Harvard for her second year. She changes her major from linguistics to literature, which she hopes will teach her how to live, how to write and how to make sense of her uncategorisable relationship with Ivan, who has now graduated and moved to California. Like The Idiot, Either/Or draws substantially on Batuman’s own life (Batuman also attended Harvard in the mid-1990s). Each novel is also a meandering and endearing Künstlerroman.

Either/Or takes its title from Søren Kierkegaard’s work of the same name, which presents two modes of living: the aesthetic and the ethical. Selin has been preoccupied with the distinction between these two modes since the previous year, when her best friend, Svetlana, introduced it to her as the

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