Har­vard Square: A Novel

  • Review
By – April 8, 2013

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.

Gary Katz received an MA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka-Oma­ha. He is the library admin­is­tra­tor for the Krip­ke Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion Library in Oma­ha, Nebras­ka, one of the largest Judaica libraries in the Unit­ed States.

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