Selin, a tall, highly strung Turkish-American from New Jersey turns up at Harvard and finds herself dangerously overwhelmed by the challenges and possibilities of adulthood. She studies linguistics and literature, teaches ESL and spends a lot of time thinking about what language – and languages – can and cannot do.
Along the way she befriends Svetlana, a cosmopolitan Serb, and obsesses over Ivan, a mathematician from Hungary. The two conduct a hilarious relationship that culminates with Selin spending the summer teaching English in a Hungarian village and enduring a series of surprising excursions. Throughout her journeys, Selin ponders profound questions about how culture and language shape who we are, how difficult it is to be a failed writer, and how baffling love is.
At once clever and clueless, Batuman’s heroine shows us with perfect hilarity and soulful inquisitiveness just how messy it can be to forge a self.