Harvard Square: A Novel

Harvard Square: A Novel

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by Andre Aciman

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“[Aciman’s] best so far. . . . An existentialist adventure worthy of Kerouac.”—Clancy Martin, New York Times Book Review
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


“[Aciman’s] best so far. . . . An existentialist adventure worthy of Kerouac.”—Clancy Martin, New York Times Book Review
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.

Editorial Reviews

Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal
“So candid, so penetrating and so beautifully written that it can make you feel cut open, emotionally exposed.”
Charles McGrath - New York Times
“Slyly comic…Touching and beautifully written.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Julia Klein - Chicago Tribune
“Entertaining and moving…. Aciman writes a vigorous, muscular prose that is as seductive as his characters.”
Richard Eder - Boston Globe
“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.”
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.”
G. Clay Whittaker - The Daily Beast
“A paced, enjoyable read…. The book is hard to put down.”
Farisa Khalid - PopMatters
“Wonderful, riveting.… Beautifully written…. It captures the tenderness and evanescence of youth and ambition.”
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.”
Library Journal
Aciman's (Call Me by Your Name) narrator, a young Jewish man originally from Egypt, is a graduate student at Harvard in the mid 1970s. After failing exams he questions his goal of a career in academia. When he's not studying, he frequents Cambridge bars and restaurants that cater to a Middle Eastern clientele, and there he meets Kalaj, a man of Tunisian descent with a magnetic personality. With much in common, the two bond and spend the fall carousing in Cambridge and reminiscing about their pasts. Kalaj struggles to make ends meet as a cab driver and is engaged in ongoing battles with women, lawyers, and the federal immigration bureaucracy. He advises the narrator on, e.g., matters of romance, politics, and the shortcomings of American society. Eventually the narrator returns to the fold at Harvard, while Kalaj seems to be losing his struggle against deportation, and the two drift apart in this bittersweet tale of youth recalled. VERDICT Aciman probes the experience of immigrants and their dislocation and captures the youth and energy of his two main characters. He skillfully explores a side of Cambridge different from picturesque campus scenes and tourist highlights. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/12.]—James Coan, Milne Lib., SUNY Oneonta

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

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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Harvard Square: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago