This first novel by Nahum (Predicting the Future: Can We Do It? And If Not, Why Not?, 2014) charts the intellectual and emotional development of a budding medical student.
Joshua Clafston is offered the opportunity to study at the fictional Laurelton, an Ivy League school with a prestigious medical department. Here, he will mingle and compete with America’s “best and brightest” while steering a course toward maturity. Josh is, in every sense of the word, a prodigy, but his immersion in this intimidating intellectual environment causes him to run the gamut of emotions. One of his first encounters at Laurelton is with his roommate, Richard Haverford, a pompous, condescending know-it-all from the Midwest. But despite his initial nervousness and nagging sense of insecurity, Josh proves a plucky competitor in the ensuing intellectual joust. When Richard boasts that “there were few things more invigorating than reading The Odyssey in Latin,” Josh retorts, “Weren’t they [The Iliad and The Odyssey] originally written in Greek?” Richard responds, “Of course they were, but Latin was the original translation,” contradicting his initial vaunt about “the unshakable beauty of the native language in which a piece was written.” This conversation sets the tone of the novel—that of prodigious young minds attempting to fill, or conceal, gaps in their knowledge. As students from disparate localities and backgrounds come together, it makes for an engaging coming-of-age novel that examines the wounds (and sutures) of a group striving to attain the top level of academic excellence. Nahum, who himself attended Ivy League schools, has written this compelling novel in the first person, through the eyes of a likable, enviably intelligent narrator, and he vividly captures a challenging, ultimately life-transforming personal voyage through academia. His style is laconic and elegant, conveying facts clearly, without unnecessary elaboration, reflecting a fittingly matter-of-fact medical precision: “So in arriving here, you have been granted a two-edged sword,” says Laurelton’s president. “One offers you freedom, while the other enjoins you, even demands of you, to accept responsibility. Recognize this obligation, and revel in it.” Whether readers are anticipating or recalling college life, they’ll find this to be a charming, realistic account.
A masterful portrait of the scholarly existence and the terrifying leap into adulthood.