The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

By Elif Batuman

One of The Economist's 2011 Books of the yr


THE precise yet not likely tales OF LIVES DEVOTED―ABSURDLY! MELANCHOLICALLY! BEAUTIFULLY!―TO THE RUSSIAN CLASSICS

No one that learn Elif Batuman's first article (in the magazine n+1) will ever omit it. "Babel in California" informed the genuine tale of varied human destinies intersecting at Stanford collage in the course of a convention concerning the enigmatic author Isaac Babel. Over the process a number of pages, Batuman controlled to misplace Babel's final residing family on the San Francisco airport, discover Babel's mystery effect at the making of King Kong, and introduce her readers to a brand new voice that used to be unpredictable, comedian, humane, ironic, fascinating, poignant, and entirely, unpretentiously filled with love for literature.

Batuman's next pieces―for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and the London overview of Books― have made her probably the most sought-after and well-liked writers of her iteration, and its most sensible touring significant other. In The Possessed we watch her examine a potential homicide at Tolstoy's ancestral property. We elect her to Stanford, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg; retrace Pushkin's wanderings within the Caucasus; study why outdated Uzbek has 100 diverse phrases for crying; and spot an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed at the Neva.

Love and the radical, the person in background, the existential plight of the graduate pupil: all locate their position in The Possessed. actually and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favourite authors, Batuman searches for the solutions to the large questions within the information of lived adventure, combining clean readings of the nice Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sorrowful and humorous tales of the lives they proceed to influence―including her own.

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I had run out of English books, and was once particularly satisfied to discover person who was once see you later. reflect on the time it should have taken for Tolstoy to write down it! He hadn’t been ashamed to spend his time that means, instead of enjoyable by way of taking part in Frisbee or attending a fish fry. not anyone in Anna Karenina was once oppressed, as i used to be, by means of the tyranny of relaxation. The relaxation actions in Tolstoy’s novel—ice skating, balls, horse races—were attractive, dignified, and significant when it comes to plot. I spent the subsequent weeks flopped on my grandmother’s super-bourgeois rose-colored velvet couch, eating giant amounts of grapes, interpreting obsessively.

A boy who is familiar with Russian. ” • • • the ambience within the automobile used to be in some way stressful. Lidiya, who did certainly glance greatly like her father, sat within the entrance seat, analyzing aloud from each billboard. “ ‘Nokia Wireless,’ ” she stated. “ ‘Johnnie Walker. ’ ” Pirozhkova sat within the again and spoke just once the total journey: “Ask her,” she instructed Lidiya, “what is that factor on her replicate. ” the object on my replicate was once a McDonald’s satisfied Meal toy, a tiny crammed Eeyore donning a tiger swimsuit. “It’s a toy,” I acknowledged. “A toy,” Lidiya stated loudly, part turning.

Elishka, there's a very huge beer can open air our window. ” After a moment’s perplexity, I well-known this may as final night’s Baltika. “I drank 1/2 it, after which I positioned the remaining there, in case i wanted it later,” I defined. We have been dissolved in laughter whilst a knock sounded on the door: it was once the tiny guy with the Dr. Seuss beard, protecting prepackaged ice cream cones. “Two younger women, touring alone,” he acknowledged. “I inspiration a person should still congratulate you on Women’s Day. ” “He’s certainly Jewish,” Luba acknowledged, after he left.

Approximately on a daily basis they considered anything new: a samovar, a Talmud, a three-foot rubber King Kong. eventually they settled on a tremendous Cossack saber, additionally, i believe, bought on the Moscow flea marketplace. They placed the saber in a case that had no semantic hyperlink to sabers, so humans on the express saved asking me what it intended. “Why didn’t it pass within the demonstrate approximately ‘My First Goose’? ” one customer requested. “At least that tale has a saber in it. ” through that point, the convention had started. students arrived from worldwide: Russia, Hungary, Uzbekistan.

If she places her arm within the water, probably the water becomes purifier. ” one other poet in comparison his beloved’s upper-lip hairs to the feathers of a parrot feeding a pistachio to the beloved’s lips. to assist me relish the richness of this poetic photograph, Dilorom drew an image of it in my workstation. It used to be terrifying. such a lot days, whereas i used to be on the college, Eric walked to the town to shop for mineral water, which he concealed less than the mattress or in our suitcases. We couldn’t go away bottled water in simple sight simply because Gulya could grandly thank us for purchasing water after which she and Inom may drink all of it.

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