The Possessed by Elif Batuamn

Source – review copy

Elif Batuman is a new york born writer ,her parents are turkish ,she studied literature at university in american and the a summer in Uzbekistan ,which forms the largest part of this book .she has published pieces for various magazines in the US .

Now this book is about obsession with russian literature and how it drives people ,now here is a shock I m very afraid of classic russian literature and have spent most of my life avoiding it ,but in recent times the realization is that I ve missed out on a lot ,so when the offer to read this book came I jumped at the chance to do so .Hoping it would inspire me to read more russian lit .The book is a collection of short essay and a longer piece divide into three sections .The short piece focus on obsession with certain russian writers ,the first is Babel the writer who was killed by Stalin leaving little behind but what he left behind has had scholars talking since his death ,a visit to an exhibition of his possessions in california sparks a journey into his world with the joy of Elif who obviously loves these characters so much ,another dealt with a group visiting Yasnaya Polyana Tolstoy’s home ,a group of  Tolstoy scholars and the wild fantasies about the writer was this book influenced by that book ,Alice in wonderland was the book they were arguing and did it influence anne Karenina ,This started a heated debate ,Elif tells this with humour and love .The main piece is about here summer in Uzbekistan studying Uzbek language ,as a former soviet state she discovers a lot about their intertwine history with its larger neighbour by a charismatic young Man called  Muratbek .

Muratbek was very tan with bleached hair and a fixed grin .To his every utterance in every language ,he appended the exclamation “awesome !” “Turkcha gapirasizmi ” he asked me. Do you speak Turkish ? awesome !

The first meeting in summer in Samarkand of Muratbek .

So did the book do what I want yes I ve moved russian books up my tbr pile and need get war and peace back on track ,this tied in with the recent BBC show about Tolstoy where they were at Yasnaya Polyana  ,this tied together brought Elif book more to life .So if you love russian lit this is a must read ,if your like me a novice this will inspire you to take that road that involves Pushkin ,Tolstoy ,Chekov and Babel ,vis her humour and love of these writers .I love Granta’s cover a retroesque homage to leather-bound covers the orginal russian books we re published in .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like russian literature ?


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April 2011
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