Love and language

I just finished Elif Batuman’s delightful, erudite, and hopelessly funny memoir of her love of Russian literature as lived out through seven at-times-harrowing years of comp lit grad school. Elif is a college acquaintance and sometime correspondent of mine, so it’s always a double treat to see her writing out in the wider world.

If I didn’t actually believe in my responsibility to tell Americans the truth about Turkey, nevertheless I did feel it was somehow wasteful to study Russian literature instead of Turkish literature. I had repeatedly been told in linguistics classes that all languages were universally complex, to a biologically determined degree. Didn’t that mean that all languages were, objectively speaking, equally interesting? And I already knew Turkish; it had happened without any work, like a gift, and here I was tossing it away to break my head on a bunch of declensions that came effortlessly to anyone who happened to grow up in Russia.

Today, this strikes me as terrible reasoning. I now understand that love is a rare and valuable thing, and you don’t get to choose its object. You just go around getting hung up on the all the least convenient things—and if the only obstacle in your way is a little extra work, then that’s the wonderful gift right there.

Originally published at

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