Black and white photograph of a medium skinned woman with dark hair sitting in front of a studio backdrop; she looks upward and smiles

Elif Batuman

John Guare Writers Fund Rome Prize, a gift of Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman
February 5–July 5, 2024
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of English, Barnard College, Columbia University
Project title
Camino Real/The Selin Novels
Project description

My project is a novel called Camino Real, the third in a projected four-book series. The first two novels, The Idiot (2017) and Either/Or (2022), were set in the mid-nineties, during the college years of Selin, an Elif-like Turkish American narrator. They chronicled Selin’s determination to become a novelist and her strategy to make it happen—by trying to live a life resembling her favorite novels. Camino Real is set between 2000 and 2011, in California, where Selin has moved after college, to study at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of the Novel. The book’s title comes from a coastal highway, built by Spanish missionaries during Cervantes’s lifetime, which comes to play a big role in Selin’s driving life. The fourth Selin book, The Two Lives, will end in 2017—the year Selin turns forty, publishes her own first novel, starts asking herself whether novels have ruined her life, and sets herself a goal of reforming novels from within.

The photograph of Elif Batuman was taken by Valentyn Kuzan.