The figurative language of Elif Batuman…

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors  from American writer Elif Batuman…

Elif Batuman (pictured above) was born in New York City to Turkish parents. She graduated from Harvard College, and received her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford University. She has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010. Her first book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2011.

I heard about her latest novel, The Idiot, thanks to an interview with her on the podcast Fresh Air. The charming piece not only raised my interest in her book, it also taught me how to remember her first name. (Rendered backwards, it spells the word “file.”)

I must confess that the book’s stream of consciousness style — on the theme of a daughter of Turkish immigrants who arrives for her freshman year at Harvard — didn’t really appeal to me. But I enjoyed her figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Never in my life had I seen such a boring movie. I chewed nine consecutive sticks of gum, to remind myself I was still alive.
  • Bells rang when we opened the ship door, and then the smell of salami and smoked fish hit us in the face like a curtain.
  • A heap of thermal long underwear resembled a pile of souls torn from their bodies.
  • Patches of overgrown grass resembled a comb-over on the head of a bald person who didn’t want to see reality.
  • There was nothing colorful or playful about the graffiti—it was the same illegible scrawl repeated over and over and over, like a nasty thought you can’t shake.
  • I had never made an angel food cake before, and got really excited when it started to rise, but then I opened the oven too soon and it fell down in the middle, like a collapsing civilization.
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