Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490
Set in 1995, the novel brings to life the excitement of the early days of widespread internet access. As Selin enters college, she gets a university email account for the first time. As she is Turkish-American, even the allocation of a user name brings up the Otherness of her identity as it eliminates the accent mark that indicates the correct pronunciation of her name—or, in her case, absence of sound:
The "address" had my last name in it—Karadağ but all lowercase, and without the Turkish ğ which was silent. . . .
There was another world. . . . Always there, unchanged, in a configuration nobody else could see, was a glowing list of messages . . . all in the same letters, like the universal handwriting of the world.
In other contexts, Selin confronts what it means to be Turkish-American; this arises with regards to her approach to language and thought. The issue of subjectivity and witnessing arises in Selin's approach to seeing her life as though it was a novel.
She becomes more aware of this relationship through her linguistics class, in which the professor agrees with Noam Chomsky, who favored the idea of universal, deep structure. Alternatively, Selin finds herself siding with the earlier linguistic theory Benjamin Whorf, who argued in favor of the influence of a specific language. This relates to a particular suffix that Turkish has but English does not, which compels the speaker to identify if they witnessed an event or not:
In my heart, I knew that Whorf was right. I knew I thought differently in Turkish and in English—not because thought and language were the same but because different languages forced you to think about different things . . . . [With the] Turkish suffix . . . [you] were always stating your degree of subjectivity.
After Selin meets Ivan in their Russian class, they begin to develop a friendship; however, this progresses more through emails than in-person meetings or even phone calls. She begins to assign him attributes of characters out of novels—at first, from the books they are reading in class, one of which contains a character named Ivan.
Although she is aware that she is fictionalizing something real, she finds herself unwilling or unable to restrain the tendency. Her own interest in becoming a writer seems bound up in her mental processes rather than in any writing she does. Locating herself within the pages of a novel-like structure seems more real than the reality of ordinary college experience.
She grows impatient for the relationship with Ivan to progress, which is inextricably linked to her experience of life as a novel:
I wanted to know how it was going to turn out, like flipping ahead in a book. I didn't even know what kind of story it was, or what kind of role I was supposed to be playing. Which of us was taking it more seriously? Didn't that have to be me, because I was younger, and also because I was the girl?
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