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Customer Review

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Memoir of Student Years, But Not Much about Russian Books!, 27 Jan. 2012
This review is from: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Sep 2012 10:34:16 BDT
Ronald Haak says:
Yes, it meanders and roves about the point, but are these demerits? It depends how cleverly it's done --- i.e., TRISTRAM SHANDY, a perennial delight.

Your review was temperate, fair, informative and a helpful guide to potential buyers. I offer my opening sentence as counterpoint, seeking wholeness.

Posted on 25 Oct 2012 18:30:51 BDT
Contrary to the previous commenter, I found this review useful. I studied Russian at uni and though I will still give this a chance by downloading the sample, I suspect I may not bother. Thank you!
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