The Possessed by Elif Batuman
Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

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Synopsis

One of The Economist's 2011 Books of the Year


THE TRUE BUT UNLIKELY STORIES OF LIVES DEVOTED--ABSURDLY! MELANCHOLICALLY! BEAUTIFULLY!--TO THE RUSSIAN CLASSICS

No one who read Elif Batuman's first article (in the journal n+1) will ever forget it. "Babel in California" told the true story of various human destinies intersecting at Stanford University during a conference about the enigmatic writer Isaac Babel. Over the course of several pages, Batuman managed to misplace Babel's last living relatives at the San Francisco airport, uncover Babel's secret influence on the making of King Kong, and introduce her readers to a new voice that was unpredictable, comic, humane, ironic, charming, poignant, and completely, unpretentiously full of love for literature.

Batuman's subsequent pieces--for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and the London Review of Books-- have made her one of the most sought-after and admired writers of her generation, and its best traveling companion. In The Possessed we watch her investigate a possible murder at Tolstoy's ancestral estate. We go with her to Stanford, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg; retrace Pushkin's wanderings in the Caucasus; learn why Old Uzbek has one hundred different words for crying; and see an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed on the Neva.

Love and the novel, the individual in history, the existential plight of the graduate student: all find their place in The Possessed. Literally and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favorite authors, Batuman searches for the answers to the big questions in the details of lived experience, combining fresh readings of the great Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence--including her own.

 

About Elif Batuman

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ELIF BATUMAN was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. She now lives in Twin Peaks, San Francisco (near the radio tower). She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Prize. She teaches literature at Stanford University.
 
Published February 16, 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 305 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Travel. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Possessed

The New York Times

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An entertaining memoir-cum-travelogue of a grad student’s improbable education in Russian language and literature.

Mar 21 2010 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

The New York Times

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Elif Batuman’s odd and oddly profound study of her favorite Russian authors is also an exploration of the question: How do we bring our lives closer to our favorite books?

Feb 17 2010 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

The Guardian

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I flipped through the sexual abuse memoirs, sexual conquest memoirs, sexual inadequacy memoirs, alternative sexual memoirs, remorseful hedonist rock star memoirs, twelve-step memoirs, memoirs about reading .

Apr 30 2011 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

The Economist

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When she describes the “otherworldly perfection” of “Anna Karenina”, her pulse quickens: “How had any human being ever managed to write something simultaneously so big and so small…so strange and so natural?” She marvels that the heroine doesn't turn up until chapter 18, and the book goes on for ...

Apr 29 2015 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

The Telegraph

The leisure activities in Tolstoy’s novel – ice skating, balls, horse races – were beautiful, dignified and meaningful in terms of plot.” Poised between offers of courses in creative writing and literary criticism, she reads a volume of Best American Short Stories and finds herself ...

Apr 13 2011 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

Dallas News

(She has a wonderful, moving three-part story interspersed throughout the book about a summer she spent trying to learn Uzbek.) By writing about her personal experiences with such charm, Batuman manages to make literature accessible in a way few critics can: She loves the Russians, and because, o...

Mar 07 2010 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

A delightful book about readers and writers, The Possessed begins with a question, "[H]ow does someone with no real academic aspirations end up spending seven years in suburban California studying the form of the Russian novel?"

Feb 16 2010 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

The Millions

Batuman, I’m currently interning at the literary website The Millions, for which I occasionally post “Curiosities”… and I recently posted the following: “At the Paris Review Daily, Elif Batuman walks us through part one of HIS 12-hour blind date with Dostoevsky…” (emphasis added) Shortly after...

Aug 31 2010 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

London Review of Books

We hear a lot about her – and other people’s – dreams: ‘Why is it,’ she wonders, ‘that no consciously invented stories ever point beyond themselves as multifariously as dreams?’ Certain texts and people – Chekhov’s story ‘The Black Monk’, the futuristic philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov – bob up enigm...

Feb 17 2011 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

Literary Review

The Possessed is a book about how its author - who starts out wanting 'to be a writer, not an academic' - grows up and finds answers to her questions by failing to write a novel and dropping back into graduate school instead: What if ...

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Full Stop

Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, a collection of essays about Russian novels and the author’s eight years studying them as a graduate student at Stanford, is a work of criticism suffused with the experience of youth, heady and unpredictable.

Apr 22 2011 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

Dabbler

My online research suggests that any review of Elif Batuman’s remarkable book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them must open with the reviewer musing on how to categorise it, before settling, uncomfortably, on ‘memoir’.

May 25 2011 | Read Full Review of The Possessed: Adventures wit...

Reader Rating for The Possessed
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