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 ?


31 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 19:33:57

    I’m looking forward to this one, but was a bit worried that I didn’t know enough about Russian literature – it is good to know that it inspires you to read more Russian lit – that is exactly what I’m after 🙂


  2. Chinoiseries
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 19:37:27

    Just like Jackie, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Russian lit to truly appreciate this book. I’m glad to hear that reading it made you reconsider Russian novels 🙂


  3. Heather
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 19:45:51

    I haven’t read any Russian Lit yet, though I will get there eventually. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this country of authors.


  4. LizzySiddal
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 19:49:40

    Started this last night, Stu. So far, so promising ….


  5. Lynne
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 21:19:57

    This is definitely a book I will seek out. Although Tolstoy isn’t high on my list, I thoroughly enjoyed wallowing in Dostoevsky, Chekov, Gogol and lesser-known authors such as Sholokhov, who wrote And Quiet Flows the Don.

    If this book encourages you and others to look into any Russian lit, it’s been worthwhile.


  6. Eva
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 22:20:45

    I swear I’m the only one who didn’t really like this book! And that’s with a a background in Russian! lol I did like the bits about Uzbekistan, at least.


  7. Emily Jane
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 00:43:23

    I really want to read this book. I have only read a little bit of Russian literature, but I’ve loved it all so far!


  8. parrish
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 06:14:25

    I love Solzhenitsyn, Dosteovski and their like & have recently finished Olga Grushin’s The Dream life of Sukhanov which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I’m a great fan of Russian Lit & recommend you dive in. Come on you’ve just finished 2666, so Crime & punishment shouldn’t be a problem. Personal recommendations try Turgenev.


  9. Lisa Hill
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 10:18:12

    I absolutely *loved* this book, Stu – and Chinoiseries and Heather – you really don’t need to have read much Russian Lit to love it. I think you could enjoy it even if you’ve never read a word of Russian Lit because the book is (as the title says) as much about the odd-bods who read it as it is about the books. My review is here:
    and my blog post from when I hear Batuman speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival is here


  10. Bina
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 15:32:59

    This book is on my tbr list! Like you I’m quite intimidated by the Russians, but I’ve enjoyed the ones I read (Anna Karenina, The Master and Margherita). I’ve been thinking of giving Dostojevski a try and also some contemporary Russian lit.


  11. Geosi
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 15:57:15

    Like the others who’ve commented, I do not know a lot about Russian literature. I may have to read more from that perspective. Thanks, stu.


  12. Max Cairnduff
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 13:57:45

    I named my blog after a character in Russian literature. Pechorin is the protagonist of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time.

    How long is this one Stu?


  13. Kinna
    Apr 08, 2011 @ 08:10:02

    I think most people think that Russian lit is mostly Dostoevsky(whom I love) and Tolstoy (whom I’m ambivalent about). There is so much more to Russian lit. All the other writers mentioned above, including Bulgakov and the new contemporary ones. There is nothing to fear, although I admit, given the depth and breadth of writing, that it can be a bit intimidating knowing where to start! I think that you most of all can find something to delight you. Your reading of translated works will stand you in good stead when you do start reading Russian lit :).


  14. JoV
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 13:13:07

    Read about Batuman on Evening Standards in one of my train ride. Truly intriguing and definitely will want to read this book!


  15. Mytwostotinki
    Jan 15, 2015 @ 19:18:33

    Just finished this book and reviewed it: I liked it, but it was a bit uneven and the book blurb is clearly misleading, since it is mainly an autobiographical essay or collection of essays, some of them even without relation to Russian books. Of course I love Russian literature and it’s probably the one I know best (beside German literature). I met Babel’s widow once and found her an extremely charming old lady; I couldn’t recognize her in Batuman’s book – Batuman is sometimes a bit tacky in her remarks about people she doesn’t like. So, I liked it, but…


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