Starred Review. Life imitates art—and even literary theory—in this scintillating collection of essays. Stanford lit prof Batuman (recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award) gleans clues to the conundrums of human existence by recalling scenes from her grad-student days in academe and exotic settings like Samarkand. A Tolstoy conference sparks her investigation into the possible murder, both physical and metaphysical, of the great man. She spends a summer in Samarkand reading impenetrable works in Old Uzbek as a window into Central Asia's enigmatic present. (Her baffled précis of one legend reads in part, Bobur had an ignorant cousin, a soldier, who wasted all his time on revenge killings and on staging fights between chicken and sheep.) The book climaxes in a Dostoyevskian psychodrama that swirls around a magnetic grad student in the comp-lit department. Batuman is a superb storyteller with an eye for absurdist detail. Her pieces unfold like beguiling shaggy dog tales that blithely track her own misadventures into colorful exegeses of the fiction and biographies of the masters: she's the rare writer who can make the concept of mimetic desire vivid and personal. If you've ever felt like you're living in a Russian novel—and who hasn't?—Batuman will show you why. (Feb.)
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Possibly the best thing to come out of a graduate program in recent years (Dallas Morning News), Batuman's intriguing blend of travelogue, autobiography, and literary criticism offers a fresh perspective on some of Russia's greatest authors. Despite its challenging subject matter, The Possessed is accessible and entertaining, written with sly humor and a keen eye for absurdity. Some critics considered its essays uneven, but they still praised Batuman's infectious delight in literature and her examination of the many ways we can live lives more attuned to our favorite books. Perhaps the New York Times said it best: "She's the kind of reader who sends you back to your bookshelves with a sublime buzz in your head."See all Editorial Reviews
A tremendous book -- one of best I have read in several years. We need more of her books.Published 25 days ago by Phil Cushmanl
I have virtually no exposure to Russian literature or Central Asian languages. My ill-fated attempt at majoring in English as an undergraduate almost 25 years ago, focused more on... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jason A. Miller
This is a great book. The writing style is so clear and funny. I hope the author will write more books.
If you are interested in Russian literature, get this book. Read more
Someday brilliant Elif Batuman will desperately try to recover every copy of her early book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them and destroy... Read morePublished 10 months ago by L. Mack Hall
the book is a feast of quirky coincidence. the mix of scholarly exegisis with chronicle of personal adventures is impressive.Published 11 months ago by Pablo
This book had some really great moments - I even laughed out loud a few times. However, there was a lack of organization that made the book difficult to enjoy. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Laura
this woman really writes well -- describes situations/people colorfully in very short order -- the subject was basically pretty dry but still somehow full of adventure and emotion... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
The Possessed by Elif Batuman details her experiences with reading and studying Russian and Russian literature as a graduate student at Stanford University. Read morePublished 17 months ago by John Martin