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The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them [Kindle Edition]

Elif Batuman
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The true story of one woman’s intellectual and sentimental education and her strange encounters with others devoted – absurdly! melancholically! ecstatically! – to the Russian classics. Opening with a description of a conference about Isaac Babel in California at which various destinies intersect, Elif Batuman follows the footsteps of her favourite authors both literally and metaphorically, searching for the answers to the big questions. She investigates a possible murder at Tolstoy’s ancestral estate, travels to Samarkand and St Petersburg; retraces Pushkin’s wanderings in the Caucasus; learns why Old Uzbek has one hundred different words for crying; and sees an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed on the Neva. Combining fresh readings of the great Russians from Gogol to Goncharov with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence, The Possessed introduces a brilliant and distinctive new voice: comic, humane, charming, poignant and completely, and unpretentiously, full of an infectious love for literature.

Product Description


`Wildly original, creatively rambling ... the funniest book I've read in a long time' --The Times

`Part personal recollection, part literary criticism, it has the remarkable quality of being so dazzlingly good in its unique genre' --Sunday Telegraph

'Batuman has a deadpan, detached, absurdist style ... She's a master of the laconic quote ... consistently surprising and entertaining' --Irish Times

`A deeply clever and very funny collection of essays: half memoir, half love-letter to the Russian literary greats' --Guardian

`One of the best guides to life and literature I've ever read ... Eccentric and brilliant'

'The first outing of a major voice ... seriously and perceptively, about Russian fiction, and it really is funny' --Observer

`Batuman meanders skilfully through her experiences chasing meaning and life in Russian novels ... entertaining, clear eyed and passionate' --Scotland on Sunday

'She writes like a dream ... I found myself simply wanting to read more from Elif Batuman' --Evening Standard

'An intoxicating mix of memoir, literary criticism and philosophy with Batuman's idiosyncratic character at its heart .... charming and hilarious' --Daily Telegraph

'Her stories incorporate moments of real beauty and are driven by a serious purpose ... charming, complex and life-enhancing' --Sunday Times

`Read and delight in Elif Batuman's seriously funny, curiously melancholic book ... oddly moving, dazzlingly written' --The Herald

`A clever, life-loving account of a love affair with language ... an eloquent defence of the book'

--Independent on Sunday

'There are many times when Batuman embodies that great New Yorker tradition of intelligent, lightly comic non-fiction' --Guardian

`Part-memoir, part-travelogue, part-literary criticism, this curious and idiosyncratic book is also a delightful one' --Financial Times

`A joy to read. Batuman infectiously conveys the dreamlike inscrutability of Russian literature ... An intellectually bracing travelogue of literary adventures' --Economist

'It's impossible not to warm to the author of this book ... comic poignant and very entertaining' --Spectator


Praise for "The Possessed"
“In her comic, poignant, beguiling book, Batuman succeeds marvelously in illuminating her version of love.” —Reese Kwon, "Virginia"" Quarterly Review
"“At every step along the way, Batuman’s observations are wonderfully vivid.” —Julia Keller, "Chicago"" Tribune
"“Odd and oddly profound . . . Among the charms of Ms. Batuman’s prose is her fond, funny way of describing the people around her . . . Perhaps Ms. Batuman’s best quality as a writer though—beyond her calm, lapidary prose—is the winsome and infectious delight she feels in the presence of literary genius and beauty. She’s the kind of reader who sends you back to your bookshelves with a sublime buzz in your head. You want to feel what she’s feeling.” —Dwight Garner, "The New York Times Book Review
"“It’s not surprising that some people never get over these books, and Batuman, for

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 467 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0374532184
  • Publisher: Granta Books (7 April 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007RB6VEO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #326,305 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Colin C
I was excited about reading this book, being a Russian literature enthusiast (or should that be obsessive?) myself. I was slightly disappointed though as the realisation soon dawned that this book is, at best, three parts personal memoir and one part discussion of the wonder and uniqueness of Russian literature. Elif Batuman is a good writer, and her anecdotes about meeting Isaac Babel's eccentric wife and daughter, or going on a bizarre summer stay to Uzbekistan, are never less than engaging, and often very funny.

But, I think the book has been sneakily marketed as something which it is not; by the half way point, I think, there had been a handful of mentions of Tolstoy, and a tale of an academic conference related stay at his home, and some passing references to Pushkin, Babel (not really one of the greatest), and Dostoyevsky. The book does not in fact explore Russian books much at all - it mentions them in the context of the author's adventures, and as such, the emphasis is heavily on the adventures of a young Turkish woman in America and the former USSR, following her own path in life and describing the people she meets (the majority of whom do not seem to read Russian books!), not the books themselves. 'Possessed' is therefore frustrating if you want to gain many insights or fresh perspectives on most of the great Russian writers, and is better approached simply as a memoir which will occasionally mention some works you may know, or plan to read.

Overall, a little bit underwhelming.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The curate's egg - good in parts 25 Oct. 2011
By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Elif Batuman's book of essays, The Possessed, loosely based on the joys of reading classic Russian literature, turns out to be a bit of a hodge-podge of travel-writing, literary criticism and a personal reading history, enlivened by a butterfly mind that flutters from one subject to another without really landing for too long on any particular theme.

This gives the book a distinct lack of unity - sure, some of it is brilliant, but at other times, this reader at least thought, yes, but this isn't really why I came here. The book is subtitled "Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them", and in a loose way, I suppose that's fair enough, but I expected more unity of purpose, with more material written specifically for this book rather than a fair amount of bringing together previously published lectures and articles.

I've no problem with bringing together collections of previously published material, but I do think the publishers should make this clear on the cover because in this case at least, I could find quite a bit of the book online and find out whether it was something I wanted to read. As it is, the book is very selective in its appraisal of Russian books and the people who read them and hardly serves the purpose of its subtitle at all - in my humble opinion!

I wanted more, I suppose something like it says on the tin - a book about reading Russian literature, something more comprehensive, with a bit of planning behind it. I got instead large chunks about Batuman's intellectual and academic development including tortuous stories of how she ended up learning the Uzbek language, or how she moved from one course to another while at college.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Turk unpossessed 7 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I, Melachi ibn Amillar, being of unsound mind and body, did read Elif Batuman's "The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" (2010) in April 2013. The book gives an account of her travels, acquaintances and readings while enrolled on a postgraduate course on literature and languages in California. If that sounds a little odd, well so is the book, ranging from Stanford to Turkey to Uzbekistan and Saint Petersburg. Now, the central question, or joke, of the book is posed on page 57: "As a six-foot-tall first generation Turkish woman growing up in New Jersey, I cannot possibly know as much about alienation as you, a short American Jew." I, Melachi, have not read as much Russian literature as Ms Batuman, but have slept with more Russian women than her. Or so one imagines. But why, in short, would anyone care what I, or Elif Batuman, has to say about Russian literature? Perhaps cognizant of the answer to this, we are instead treated to the tragi-comic travails of jetsetting academics, in the manner of a David Lodge. Oddly, the narrator does not seem at all possessed -- she will go anywhere and do anything, providing she can get a grant. I assume there is some real scholarship going on as well, though, perhaps mercifully, we are spared this. As a travelogue with a linguistic bent it is interesting in parts, though rather haphazard. There are no cats in the book. There is a long section at the end about mimeticism involving a summary of the entire plot of "The Possessed" (the Russian novel, already rather well-known, I would have thought), the characters of which she seems to compare to those of her classmates, which I did not quite get.

But the strange thing about the book lies in the writing style.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Me, a Proletariat, as Martyr?
Singing the gulag blues...

The cold, porous winds...

Insidious, they race in...

Ricocheting off my cell walls... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Chris Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars Give this book a try
What to say about this book, other than give it a try, especially if you like Russian writers. Quirky, funny, erudite and interesting.
Published 17 months ago by J.A.L.
5.0 out of 5 stars Love of literature combined with a sense of humour
I loved Elif Batuman's book! It is a hybrid - part autobiographical novel, part research diary; it is packed with knowledge (gained or being acquired) and ideas, and it will make... Read more
Published 19 months ago by A Buchler
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm obsessed
Great book, well written, and draws you in to stories of Russian writers.... not a subject I had much interest in before. Batuman has enormous creativity and big ideas
Published 20 months ago by Cal Flyn
3.0 out of 5 stars More a travelogue than an insightful journey into Russian literature
I did expect this to be a rich exploration of Russian literature and the multiple positive quotes on the cover sucked me in. Read more
Published on 2 Feb. 2013 by nanda
4.0 out of 5 stars A young academic explores her love of Russian literature
'The Possessed' is a collection of essays loosely linked by Elif Batuman's experiences as a graduate student in comparative literature. Read more
Published on 23 April 2012 by Paul Bowes
1.0 out of 5 stars If you want to turn children away from literature, force this on them.
You know, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, yes, that one, if you enjoyed that, please don't read this. If you like Chekhov or Dickens, this is not for you. Read more
Published on 1 Jan. 2012 by Ade
5.0 out of 5 stars Russian literature and a summer in Samarkand
I knew very little about Russian literature so I thought this could be an interesting book to read and I did find It interesting reading if not for the reasons I'd expected. Read more
Published on 17 Oct. 2011 by Damaskcat
1.0 out of 5 stars Diabolically disappointing
For readers who love Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev and the other greats of Russian literature - or for people who have travelled to Russia and love the country - there is little of... Read more
Published on 2 Jun. 2011 by Pirlo
4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun and a bit challenging
This is an entertaining - often slyly funny - account of the life of a would-be novelist who has to find an alternative career as in linguistics or literary education. Read more
Published on 31 May 2011 by E. Clarke
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