Harvard Square

( 1 )

Overview

A powerful tale of love, friendship, and becoming American in late ’70s Cambridge from the best-selling novelist.
André Aciman has been hailed as "the most exciting new fiction writer of the twenty-first century" (New York magazine), a "brilliant chronicler of the disconnect…between who we are and who we wish we might have been" (Wall Street Journal), and a writer of "fiction at its most supremely interesting" (Colm Tóibín). Now, with his third and most ambitious novel, Aciman ...

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Harvard Square: A Novel

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Overview

A powerful tale of love, friendship, and becoming American in late ’70s Cambridge from the best-selling novelist.
André Aciman has been hailed as "the most exciting new fiction writer of the twenty-first century" (New York magazine), a "brilliant chronicler of the disconnect…between who we are and who we wish we might have been" (Wall Street Journal), and a writer of "fiction at its most supremely interesting" (Colm Tóibín). Now, with his third and most ambitious novel, Aciman delivers an elegant and powerful tale of the wages of assimilation—a moving story of an immigrant’s remembered youth and the nearly forgotten costs and sacrifices of becoming an American.
It’s the fall of 1977, and amid the lovely, leafy streets of Cambridge a young Harvard graduate student, a Jew from Egypt, longs more than anything to become an assimilated American and a professor of literature. He spends his days in a pleasant blur of seventeenth-century fiction, but when he meets a brash, charismatic Arab cab driver in a Harvard Square café, everything changes.Nicknamed Kalashnikov—Kalaj for short—for his machine-gun vitriol, the cab driver roars into the student’s life with his denunciations of the American obsession with "all things jumbo and ersatz"—Twinkies, monster television sets, all-you-can-eat buffets—and his outrageous declarations on love and the art of seduction. The student finds it hard to resist his new friend’s magnetism, and before long he begins to neglect his studies and live a double life: one in the rarified world of Harvard, the other as an exile with Kalaj on the streets of Cambridge. Together they carouse the bars and cafés around Harvard Square, trade intimate accounts of their love affairs, argue about the American dream, and skinny-dip in Walden Pond. But as final exams loom and Kalaj has his license revoked and is threatened with deportation, the student faces the decision of his life: whether to cling to his dream of New World assimilation or risk it all to defend his Old World friend.Harvard Square is a sexually charged and deeply American novel of identity and aspiration at odds. It is also an unforgettable, moving portrait of an unlikely friendship from one of the finest stylists of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Clancy Martin
…André Aciman's third novel (and best so far)…makes the reader remember what it's like to be young and feel that life is about living, that there's more to existence than getting ahead. That it all takes place between exiles acutely conscious of their homelessness—of the conjunction of their inability and their refusal to fit in—heightens the irony and the excitement…I hope it won't sound presumptuous to say that Aciman has found his voice: the lushness of his first novel suited its sensuality, and the angular sentences in his second similarly fit its awkward, drawing-room sensibility—but here it feels as if we are at last reading the real Aciman. His sentences call to mind the late work of V. S. Naipaul: comfortable, unforced, conversational, unafraid. Aciman uses metaphors sparingly, and when he does, they are striking.
The Washington Post - Ron Charles
…a tale of…an immigrant's painful decision to assimilate into a culture that rewards reinvention…Harvard Square is a plaintive love letter to displaced, wandering people, to anyone who longs for home and reaches unwisely for the hand of a fellow wanderer…It's an old story for Americans, but worth telling again when it's told this well: Every act of immigration is also an act of betrayal.
Publishers Weekly
Aciman’s stock in trade is nostalgia. In his latest novel (after Eight White Nights), another autobiographical hero, this one unnamed, dreams of the past but desires it only as it is conjured in his memory. He looks back at himself as a navel-gazing Egyptian-Jewish Harvard grad student stuck in Cambridge during the lonely and hot, but game-changing, summer of 1977. To avoid studying, he remembers trawling the empty town, running into a Tunisian cab driver named Kalaj, short for Kalashnikov, at a place called Café Algiers. Kalaj is everything Aciman’s narrator is not: loud, reckless, and brutal, his opinions fired rat-tat-tat at anyone and everyone. But he is also a doppelganger. Muslim and Jew are both outsiders in a borrowed America, exiles with nowhere to which they might return. They become good friends, sharing the little money they earn, chasing women. One afternoon they picnic at Waldon Pond, into which Kalaj urinates, a hilariously bald metaphor. Fearing he will be deported, Kalaj struggles to resist the “ersatz” allure of an America that might reject him. Our hero is torn between the camaraderie he feels for Kalaj and his desire to assimilate. Succumbing to Kalaj’s uncompromising truths would mean rejecting the more nuanced hope that he might make a home in America without entirely belonging to it. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Apr.)
Nicole Krauss
“If you like brave, acute, elated, naked, brutal, tender, humane, and beautiful prose, then you’ve come to the right place.”
Charles McGrath - New York Times
“Slyly comic…Touching and beautifully written.”
Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal
“So candid, so penetrating and so beautifully written that it can make you feel cut open, emotionally exposed.”
Ron Charles - Washington Post
“A plaintive love letter to displaced, wandering people, to anyone who longs for home and reaches unwisely for the hand of a fellow wanderer.”
Stephan Lee - Entertainment Weekly
“Aciman tackles Big Ideas by observing the smallest, most intimate gestures of two people and letting them talk—and his characters talk beautifully.”
Jillian Keenan - Los Angeles Review of Books
“Beautifully done [and] deeply satisfying.”
Julia Klein - Chicago Tribune
“Entertaining and moving…. Aciman writes a vigorous, muscular prose that is as seductive as his characters.”
Richard Eder - Boston Globe
“Harvard Square is a darker account of exile itself and the uncertainties of accommodation to a new world while memories of the old tug painfully…. Kalaj [is] warm, impetuous, and whole-hearted…. Aciman succeeds in making him unforgettable.”
G. Clay Whittaker - The Daily Beast
“A paced, enjoyable read…. The book is hard to put down.”
Adam Kirsch - Tablet
“Powerful… As in so many classic novels before it, Harvard Square emphasizes both the friendliness and the callousness of America and Americans, the way the country’s great privilege serves as both magnet and goad…. Intense and thoughtful.”
Farisa Khalid - PopMatters
“Wonderful, riveting.… Beautifully written…. It captures the tenderness and evanescence of youth and ambition.”
Clancy Martin - New York Times Book Review
“[Aciman's] best so far…. An existentialist adventure worthy of Kerouac.”
Malcom Forbes - San Francisco Chronicle
“An illuminating character study and poignant meditation on the twin trials of how to fit in and how to be loved.”
Mark Athitakis - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Harvard Square sings as a portrait of a fleeting friendship, revealing how platonic closeness can have a romantic tinge as well.”
Jessica Freeman-Slade - The Millions
“Brilliant…A novel of education and isolation, sad and funny and sure to provoke nostalgia for anyone’s college years.”
Sandee Brawarsky - The Jewish Week
“Andre Aciman has captured the inner life of exile, what it’s like to stand in one place and be reminded of another, to long for that other place, even knowing it no longer exits.”
Kirkus Reviews
Two immigrant outsiders hang out in cafes near Harvard. One vents, the other listens, in this third novel from the Egyptian-born Aciman (Eight White Nights, 2010, etc.). With the students gone, Cambridge in August is a sleepy place. But the nameless narrator does not have the wherewithal to leave town in 1977. He's a graduate, sweating over his dissertation on 17th-century literature, with last-chance exams looming. The 26-year-old is scraping by on library work and tutoring French. His background is sketchy: He's a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt by way of Paris; these autobiographical details are fleshed out in Aciman's well-received 1994 memoir Out of Egypt. He's drawn to the tiny Café Algiers by its French-Arab flavor and finds it dominated by a new arrival, a beret-wearing guy in his 30s who holds forth in French about white Americans' addiction to "all things jumbo and ersatz." His rapid-fire delivery has earned him the nickname Kalaj, short for Kalashnikov. He's a Berber from a Mediterranean town in Tunisia, driving a cab while applying for a green card; that bid is in jeopardy because his American wife is divorcing him. Kalaj has an immediate appeal for the narrator (he is his id, his unexpressed anger), and the two become friends. The purpose of Kalaj's rants is to attract women; they are also a defense mechanism, should America reject him. His success with the ladies rubs off on the narrator. In short order, he beds a very rich Persian graduate student, a Romanian baby sitter and another rich graduate student, a white American, plus his always available neighbor Linda. These flings might have been more credible if Aciman had not placed their lovemaking off limits. As for Kalaj, this should have been his story, but he has not been developed into a picaresque hero, which is why Aciman shifts our attention back to his colorless narrator. A rather modest addition to immigrant experience literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393088601
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/8/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 732,333
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Andre Aciman
André Aciman is the author of the novels Call Me by Your Name and Eight White Nights, the memoir Out of Egypt, and two books of essays. He is also the editor of The Proust Project. He teaches comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he directs the Writers’ Institute. Aciman lives with his wife and family in New York City.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    Gena

    ~Gena

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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