Acclaimed author Andre Aciman creates a powerful tale of friendship and assimilation in his third novel, Harvard Square. This is a poignant story of a Jewish Egyptian graduate student attending Harvard in 1977. He spends his time reading forgotten seventeenth century literature, and dreaming of one day being accepted into Cambridge society. While reading in a Cambridge café, he meets an Arab cab driver, Kalaj, and they form an unlikely friendship.
Together they explore Cambridge and find that they have a lot to teach each other: Kalaj shows the student how to read women, while the student gives Kalaj a taste of being embraced by Harvard. The novel moves toward final exams while Kalaj’s driver’s license is revoked and he fears being deported. Kalaj knows he doesn’t fit within Cambridge society and later tells the student that one day the student will inevitably choose privileged Harvard over him.
The graduate student lets him move into his apartment while finding him a job as a French tutor in his department. Their friendship dissolves because Kalaj foolhardily quits his job and insults his mentor. The student then turns his back on Kalaj instead of helping him stay in Cambridge, all the while securing his own ticket and future in Harvard.
Harvard Square is a superb novel that captures the duality of identity and friendship in 1977 Cambridge. Aciman is a brilliant writer at the height of his narrative abilities.