Elif Batuman –– acclaimed New Yorker contributor, recent author of The Idiot (a novel set at Harvard in the ’90’s) and former Advocate member –– is every bit as genial, witty and inspiring as her Twitter page makes her out to be. It was truly a pleasure to have the chance to chat with her about her debut novel, The Idiot, Turkish heritage, and the 19th century Russian novel. She proves that it is, in fact, possible to be dazzlingly intelligent, publish two best-selling books and still be one of the warmest, most approachable people ever.B- We're very excited about The Idiot. How did you decide on your subject matter, and how was it to transition from writing mostly non-fiction to fiction?E- The Idiot is based on a draft that I wrote many years ago in 2000-2001; at that point I was in my early 20s.
AwashAkdeniz: Turkish for the Mediterranean. Translates to the “White Sea.” Imagine: you are 8 years-old. Innocence means nothing yet. You swim bare-bottomed; you are afraid of girls. You want to grow up to be just like dad, and your favourite colour is just red. Last week your father, hoarse, defeated, spoke of leaving, at last, for good. Whispered sickly in mother’s ear – her hair, waves of sand, softer than the look in her eyes, the look you can’t recognise; softer than her torn, work-worn hands. Murmured a word more giant than you could ever have fathomed. Deep down you knew it meant time here was up. Pale, it rose in your belly, then, the feeling that you’d be missing, somehow, the rubble and the blaze of home. Recall: you wake up in the middle of the night to leave for the dock.
It’s Friday last week and I’m accompanying my mother on one of those annual visits to the doctor. I’m thinking about how it used to be the other way round when I was younger - accompaniment was a grown-up enterprise entirely, and the idea of going anywhere at all by myself would mean tumbling into the jaws of the world of strangers and their lairs for lost children. Emerging from my thoughts, I check my wristwatch: we have been sitting in the waiting room for just over an hour, and I, all too rapidly, seem to be running out of patience. It’s not that I’m not used to waiting, or that there’s some environmental quality to the beige-grey waiting room that makes me physically uncomfortable; rather, I have never been in the presence of so many pregnant women all at once. Bellies bulging like those of malnourished children – nature has a mind of its own – the women have more than simply the obvious in common.
2016 has been one of those years. I remember having a similar feeling back in 2009. It was at a New Year Party my parents had forced me to join. I was a spongy middle schooler in the midst of despairing adults who had lost their jobs, their prospects for parenthood, their self-esteem after a divorce, but who somehow still found the irony in themselves to grit their teeth and celebrate the coming of another year.For them, 2010 seemed to present the possibility for actual happiness, and I, pubescent and confused, believed in the potential of a new decade. For me, 2009 hadn’t been all that bad, except for the fact that 8th grade had come for me with all its saturnian force. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that over the past year, everywhere I went I had unwittingly absorbed from each adult interaction a fraction of the weighty gloom the real world entrusts on Big Kids.