the fall of 1977, and amid the lovely, leafy streets of Cambridge a young
Harvard graduate student, a Jew from Egypt, longs more than anything to become
an assimilated American and a professor of literature. He spends his days in a
pleasant blur of seventeenth century fiction, but when he meets a brash,
charismatic Arab cab driver in a Harvard Square café, everything changes.
Kalashnikov, Kalaj for short, for his machine-gun vitriol, the cab driver roars
into the student’s life with his denunciations of the American obsession with “all
things jumbo and ersatz”—Twinkies, monster television sets, all you can eat
buffets—and his outrageous declarations on love and the art of seduction. The
student finds it hard to resist his new friend’s magnetism, and before long he
begins to neglect his studies and live a double life: one in the rarified world
of Harvard, the other as an exile with Kalaj on the streets of Cambridge.
Together they carouse the bars and cafés around Harvard Square, trade intimate
accounts of their love affairs, argue about the American dream, and skinny-dip
in Walden Pond. But as final exams loom and Kalaj has his license revoked and
is threatened with deportation, the student faces the decision of his life:
whether to cling to his dream of New World assimilation or risk it all to
defend his Old World friend.
Harvard Square is a sexually charged and deeply American
novel of identity and aspiration at odds. It is also an unforgettable, moving
portrait of an unlikely friendship from one of the finest stylists of our time.
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