©2023 Fable Group Inc.

The Idiot

By Elif Batuman
The Idiot by Elif Batuman digital book - Fable

Why read on Fable?

Discover social reading

Chat inside the ebook with emojis, comments and more

Annotate with notes, tabs, and highlights

Share or keep your notes private with our annotation features

Support the World Literacy Foundation

We donate 20% of every book sale to help children learn to read

Publisher Description

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book • Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction • Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction

“Easily the funniest book I’ve read this year.” —GQ

“Masterly funny debut novel . .  . Erudite but never pretentious, The Idiot will make you crave more books by Batuman.” —Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.

The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. 
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

With superlative emotional and intellectual sensitivity, mordant wit, and pitch-perfect style, Batuman dramatizes the uncertainty of life on the cusp of adulthood. Her prose is a rare and inimitable combination of tenderness and wisdom; its logic as natural and inscrutable as that of memory itself. The Idiot is a heroic yet self-effacing reckoning with the terror and joy of becoming a person in a world that is as intoxicating as it is disquieting. Batuman's fiction is unguarded against both life's affronts and its beauty--and has at its command the complete range of thinking and feeling which they entail.

Named one the best books of the year by Refinery29 Mashable One • Elle Magazine • The New York Times • Bookpage • Vogue • NPR • Buzzfeed The Millions

244 Reviews

Expressionless Face“Good writing. Annoying character but Elif Batuman is cool and this did inspire me to write so I guess it wasn’t a waste of my time!”
Multi-layered charactersDescriptive writingEasy to readRealistic settingComing of ageUnsatisfying endingUnsatisfying plot
Rolling on the Floor Laughing Face“Ngl it took me some time to get into this book. It has some one liners though that just had me laughing out loud and which kept me going and the setting in Hungarian and characters we meet there were really worth it in the end. Glad I hung in!”
Colorful personalitiesFunny writingComicalComing of age
Rolling on the Floor Laughing Face“On my own, I never would have gone for “The Idiot.” Batuman’s unique coming-of-age novel, though, grabbed my attention from the beginning. While there were times I was ready to give up due to lack of plot, I’m glad I stuck with it. Selin has such witty, thought-provoking, and darkly humorous insights throughout her first year at Harvard and summer abroad. Those insights balanced out the mundane parts. I truly felt Selin’s wonderment, sadness, and bewilderment as she enters young adulthood.”
Funny writingOriginal writingWitty banterComing of ageThought-provokingFlat charactersUnsatisfying plot
Thinking Face“Overall I liked this book. It was all vibes and no plot, which is fun sometimes, however, while I enjoyed the Harvard vibes of the story, I lost interest in the Summer travel vibes at the end. It felt meandering and pointless. I felt myself wishing to get through it so it would be over. I didn't like Ivan at all and while I empathized with Selin I was often frustrated with her. The writing was very smart though and often quite funny and thought provoking.”
Multi-layered charactersThought-provokingUnengaging charactersUnsatisfying plot
Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes“I simply could not put the book down and has already downloaded the sequel. The prisma of being multi-lingual through which the narrator looks at the world is so relatable and accurate. The characters bounce of each other. The banter is simply dazzling! If you love languages and learning about how others see the world, this book is a must read.”
Believable charactersColorful personalitiesMulti-layered charactersRelatable charactersBeautifully writtenConversationalEasy to readFunny writingWitty banter

About Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. The recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, and a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for Humor, she also holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University. The Idiot is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Start a Book Club

Start a public or private book club with this book on the Fable app today!


Do I have to buy the ebook to participate in a book club?

Why can’t I buy the ebook on the app?

How is Fable’s reader different from Kindle?

Do you sell physical books too?

Are book clubs free to join on Fable?

How do I start a book club with this book on Fable?

Error Icon
Save to a list
Private List
Private lists are not visible to other Fable users on your public profile.
Notification Icon