In the wake of reading this book, I just had to go back to the description on Goodreads and give it another once-over, because, quite frankly, I didn't find it all that it's cracked up to be. According to the big bold print at the top of the description, Harvard Square is "A powerful tale of love, friendship, and becoming American in late ’70s Cambridge" and according to the text at the bottom, "It is the book that will seal André Aciman’s reputation as one of the finest writers of our time." I didn't find this book to be either of those things. A few things I did find it: tedious, pretentious, boring, and just overall not dazzling. I'm confused as to how these descriptions ended up attached to Harvard Square and not, with a few adjustments for time and place, attached to the far superior Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Both Harvard and Americanah deal with the trials and tribulations of scholarship and immigration and relationships, but only one of them does so in an emotionally gripping way, and it isn't Harvard.
I think the main problem with Harvard Square is the main character and narrator. He's nameless, which isn't an issue. He's also meant to juxtapose the other central character of the story, Kalaj, which also isn't an issue in and of itself. What is an issue is that, in pouring so much spirit into Kalaj, it feels like the narrator is just empty in comparison. He's a watery echo of Kalaj. The narrator describes Kalaj as another version of himself, if he hadn't had connections and hope in the process of immigrating to America from Africa (the narrator is from Egypt, and Kalaj is from Tunisia, both by way of France) but that comparison doesn't really hold any emotion because the narrator is kind of a jerk who, although he describes Kalaj as the most precious person in the world to him at one point, doesn't lift a finger to help him or even acknowledge his struggle, and is glad to have him out of his life at the first opportunity. The hypocrisy is absolutely astounding, especially in reflection in later years. There are some bits of nice writing, but overall the narrative was just so blah that nice writing couldn't really compensate.
Quite frankly, I don't have that much to say about this one. I feel like it's been done, and done better, despite the high praise this book was gotten from other people. If you want to read about the student immigrant experience with a real, human heart and more dimension, go read Americanah. This one just falls flat.
2 stars out of 5.