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 ?


Been a while since done a post about book coming into Winston manors well here are a few I ve brought and some library books for IFFP longlist reading .

First of five from the IFFP longlist –

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida – Japanese Noir ,was lot said about this when it came out a different Japanese book than the ones I ve read before .

The secret history of costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez -The Columbian  writer has used Conrad’s Nostromo as a start for a book about the character that inspired Conrad’s book .

I curse the river of time by Per Petterson -Avrid Jansen a man in his thirties looks back at his life and his relationship with his mother .

The sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka – the Venezuelan writer tackles sickness real and imagined using three characters in two strands .

these came from Library .

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras – this is Harry story a ten-year on the run in Argentina following a coup ,full of childhood memories mix with a life on the run .this was sent to me via Frank Wynne the translator of the book .


Another from IFFP long list and a new spanish Novel

The Museum of innocence by Orhan Pamuk -Kemal a business man has a twenty year affair with a shop girl compared to Madame Bovary .

The anatomy of a moment by Javier Cercas – a book about the attempt coup in 1981 where a solider burst into the parliament building .

some new and used books brought –

Exercises in style by Raymond Queneau – the founder of the Oulipo movement ,this is classic Oulipo the same passage told in 99 different styles of writing .

Ordained by the oracle by Asare Konadu – A Ghanaian novel about a man following a ritual of being by his dead wife for forty days and nights .

Only joking by Gabriel Josipovici – a clown is hired by a baron to spy jokes lies and art mix into one .

Against nature by Joris -Karl Huysmans – a classic french book follows the dreams and nightmares of a ailing Aristocrat .

Last is the beautifully package ten stories about smoking by Stuart Evers ,he grew up in same town as me is younger thou ,he smokes I smoke this has been compare to Carver in style .


Monsieur Linh and his child by Philippe Claudel

Source – review copy

Translator – Euan Cameron

The french writer Philippe Claudel won the Independent foreign fiction prize in 2010 for his book the brodeck’s report ,he is  a writer and also a film director ,this book was written before the brodeck’s report .

Monsieur Linh of the title is an elderly gent from well we don’t know where from just a war-torn country ,he is on a boat with his young granddaughter heading to a new land to start a new life ,he arrives ends up in a centre with the other refugees ,this is the point we meet the other main character  of this book Monsieur Bark ,they meet as every day Linh escapes to the park to sit on the bench and just be ,the two men don’t speak the same language but meet and make a connection maybe its the fact that they both have things to say but maybe don’t want the answers that draws them close ,eventually traveling to the seaside ,having drinks in the cafe .But then Linh is found a place a long distance away from his friend ,Linh health drops and well he dies (sorry that might be a bit of spoiler but it is obvious from early in book Linh is old )at this point Bark finds his friend and you get a huge OMG moment ,it has been a long time since a book made me go damm I didn’t see that, but this did.

He places a cigarette between his lips ,in a simple and smooth motion .He lights it ,inhales the first puff deeply ,and closes his eyes .

“It’s good all the same …” he murmurs eventually.

The old man doesn’t understand anything the ,man who has just sat down is saying .Nevertheless ,he senses that the words are not unfriendly .

Lind and Barks first meeting on the bench .

At heart of this book is what is it to be a refugee and friendship ? Linh and Bark’s friendship remind me of the Jim Jarmusch’s film ghost dog there is  a friendship between Forest Whitaker character and an Haitian ice cream man were they speak in different languages but know each other really well some how .Claudel did a great job blurring the lines here Linh could be a name from anywhere and as recent  history shows being a refugee isn’t just african problem ,I worked in Germany in early nineties with Bosnian and Croat refugees we had similar chats to bark and Linh my broken German and there broken German and English ,but in some ways the struggle made us closer than talking to someone in your own language for same period of time ,anyway back to the book ,although the fact are thin on the ground this is about people, Linh his granddaughter and monsieur Bark are the three people a triangle brought together by war .Another thing the book remind me of was Dahl’s tales of the unexpected ,this one has such a twist in the tale it would have made a great episode of that series .

Do you like surprises ?

have you read Claudel ?

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April 2011


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