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The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them Paperback – 5 Apr 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847083145
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847083142
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 66,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

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

About the Author

ELIF BATUMAN was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. She graduated from Harvard, and received her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford University. She is currently the writer-in-residence at Koc University, Istanbul. Her writing has been published in the New Yorker, n+1, Harper's and the Guardian, and she has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award. This is her first book.


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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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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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By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 25 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: 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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