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The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them Paperback – February 16, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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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From Bookmarks Magazine
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."
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That is, until I read this book. This book starts by explaining a love story of sorts that isnt even a "real Russian story", but to me thats what this book is, a great love story. Her adventures lead her all over the Russian landscape, both in books and in real life. They cause her to ask questions which are intrinsic to being Slavic it seems, "When you love someone, what is it that you actually love?" and "who actually killed a man many are 100% sure died because of a stroke". And listening to her talk with so much care in her heart for these books, which have scared me ever since I tried to read War and Peace in its original Russian and French double type, I began to see that my fear was wrongly placed. It was really in the rash move of a student who knew only little Russian to try and take on the Russian Epic.
Since picking up this book I have bought, or found, 25 russian books for my kindle or in properback (in english except for one) which I will be reading as I sit in the Post-Soviet world again, in my own version of a Summer in Samarkand.
To those who say its too expensive for a kindle I beg to differ. Her ability to get me interested in writers (who you can get almost all, if not all, of their books for Free from the kindle), to get me into the lives and discussions about the books, to basically show me the literary criticism field, all without me realizing what I was doing, is more than worth it. I hope she gets most of it, but even if she doesn't, I will be buying this book again.
If you are interested in Russian literature, get this book. If you are not that interested in the topic, still get this book. It is brilliant.
Definitely worth reading.
Most recent customer reviews
It perfectly captures the craziness of academia, being a grad student, and the silliness that passes for...Read more