An Expensive Education
By Nick McDonell
(Atlantic Monthly Press, Hardcover, 9780802118936, 256pp.)
Publication Date: August 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Professor Susan Lowell has it made. A happily married mother of two in a tenure-track job at Harvard, she has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her book lionizing Hatashil, an East African freedom fighter. David Ayan is her singular Somali-born student. He is trying to become a member of one of Harvard’s elite finals clubs. He is trying to understand Jane, his girlfriend from a privileged background. He is trying, sometimes, just to get by in a foreign place. Michael Teak is a twenty-five-year-old recent Harvard grad working as an American intelligence operative who meets Hatashil in David’s village minutes before the massacre that will upend all their lives.
Nick McDonell’s third novel takes his readers into Harvard—through its dormitories and dining halls, into its elite finals clubs and lecture halls, and within the offices of its ambitious professors—giving us an incredibly authentic insider’s view of this illustrious university. A powerful portrait of personalities all ensnared in the African conflict and of the Harvard campus on which the debate takes place, An Expensive Education is a smart, relentless novel set at the troubled intersection of ivory academia and realpolitik.
NICK MCDONELL was born in 1984 in New York City. A graduate of Harvard University, he is the author of two previous novels, Twelve and The Third Brother.
McDonell’s third novel . . . introduces a spy who could have easily walked off the pages of le Carré’s better works . . . Teak is the most attractive fictional spy in quite some time . . . one hopes this isn’t [his] only appearance.” Publishers Weekly
Part college novel and part spy thriller in the tradition of Green and le Carré, An Expensive Education encompasses global, national, and campus politics, showing the way the biggest agendas are sometimes set on the smallest stages. McDonell writes about hot topics with a cool head, and his riveting novel should fuel an emotional response from readers.” Booklist (starred review)
"McDonell's dark, relentelessly readable latest swings back and forth between Harvard and Africa, and in both cases the education is indeed expensive . . . The 20-something author keeps his smart, ambitious, self-absorbed characters at arm’s-length, doling out understanding and compassion to them while withholding real affection. A novel for the head more than the heart, but so very intelligent that for a certain kind of reader it will be catnip.” Kirkus (starred review)
McDonell continues his streak with a suspenseful, Graham Greeneinspired third effort . . . it's clear this young writer has only begun to show where his prodigious storytelling will take us.” People
An Expensive Education blends a terse story of international intrigue with a biting satire of Harvard . . . Smart and sexy and could be the beginning of a franchise more lucrative than literary fiction.” Ron Charles, The Washington Post
For decades, the intersection of the Ivy League and the CIA has made for good storytelling. But most of these are august tales of the Cold War, told from the wise, occasionally stuffy viewpoint of an old master. Now the 25-year-old McDonell who burst onto the literary scene at 17 with his novel Twelve has enlivened the genre with An Expensive Education . . . Tempered by some hilarious insider glimpses of Harvard life, An Expensive Education is terrific, a thriller noir that's difficult to put down or forget." Entertainment Weekly (A-)
At twenty-five, McDonell is delivering on his literary promise. An Expensive Education is an adult novel, albeit not too grown-up. There are nods to Graham Greene, but the book struck me as more like what an early Bret Easton Ellis novel might be like if Ellis believed in plots. . . . McDonell has mastered the mechanics of genre without losing his literary hipness.” The Oregonian
Unerringly entertaining . . . McDonell skips from Washington to Nairobi as easily as he crosses the river between Cambridge and Boston, usually by means of short chapters and skillful cuts. . . . [His protagonist Teak] is more Holden Caulfield than James Bond: the spy in quarterlife crisis. And it’s the juxtaposition of his cold-blooded training and soulful moping that gives the book its charm.” The New York Times Book Review