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The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books…
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The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (2010)

by Elif Batuman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8904516,471 (3.63)1 / 74
Literally and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favorite authors, Batuman searches for the answers to the big questions in the details of lived experience, combining fresh readings of the great Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence--including her own.… (more)
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English (42)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
The first third touched me, it revealed that sweetened affinity with my nerdy soul. The latter bits were stillborn excerpts from travel pieces lost on the rocks. It was devoured swiftly, and, at least initially, with savor. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Feels like juvenalia, but she's a very good writer, so I'm looking forward to seeing what she makes after she's run through all her grad school stories. ( )
  adamhindman | May 13, 2018 |
A collection of essays ruminating on Russian literature. Not really sure why I picked this us, as I'm not a huge fan of Russian lit. However, her writing is approachable (meaning she avoids the literary/scholarly jargon as much as possible). ( )
  gossamerchild88 | Mar 30, 2018 |
very enjoyable and funny. Brings back memories of grad school.

Truth be known, I personally have not read this book but my husband read most of it to me. Just wanted to put the record straight. ( )
  Bakhtin | Oct 24, 2017 |
I had such high hopes for this book, but I couldn't enjoy it. I read the first two chapters carefully, but after that I just skimmed through it, hoping it would get better. The author has an unfortunate habit of dismissing anything she isn't personally interested in as completely useless to the entire world, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. ( )
  Lindoula | Sep 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
The dull pewter of Uzbekistan’s literary offerings makes Russia’s great names seem all the more lustrous, but this book is only secondarily about literature: its main attraction is Elif Batuman herself.
added by Shortride | editHarper's Magazine, Benjamin Moser (pay site) (Apr 1, 2010)
 
Hilarious, wide-ranging, erudite and memorable, “The Possessed” is a sui generis feast for the mind and the fancy... Batuman’s exaltations of Russian literature could have ended up in scholarly treatises gathering dust in university stacks. Instead, she has made her subject glow with the energy of the enigma that drew her to it in the first place: “the riddle of human behavior and the nature of love” bound up, indeed, with Russian. As a soulful Russian-language teacher might say as she hands out a piece of chocolate to her pet student: Molodets. Way to go.
 
Elif Batuman is clearly one of those people whom Babel described, in one of his Odessa stories, as having “spectacles on his nose and autumn in his heart.” Her autumnal impulses are balanced by jumpy, satirical ones. It’s a deep pleasure to read over her shoulder.
 
Batuman does what all great essayists do—she fills her readers with a passion for the subject at hand while simultaneously exploring its complexity.
 

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Elif Batumanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chast, RozCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When the Russian Academy of Sciences puts together an author's Collected Works, they aren't aiming for something you can put in a suitcase and run away with.
In Thomas Mann's 'Magic Mountain', a young man named Hans Castorp arrives at a Swiss sanatorium to visit his tubercular cousin for three weeks. [Introduction]
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Ich erinnere mich besonders an die Passage, in der er beschreibt, dass jeder Mensch zwei Leben hat - ein offenes und sichtbares mit Arbeit, Konventionen, Verantwortung, Scherzen, un das andere, das "im Geheimen verläuft" - und wie mühelos sich die Umstände so fügen, dass alles, was einem besonders wichtig, interessant und bedeutsam ist, sich in dem zweiten, dem geheimen Leben abspielt.
Eine Stadt hieß Tokat, was wörtlich "ein Schlag ins Gesicht" heißt. SO lautet auch der Titel eines berühmten Manifests der russischen Futuristen: "Ein Schlag ins Gesicht des öffentlichen Geschmacks" - oder auf Türkisch "Toplumsal zwevke bir tokat". Die "osmanische Ohrfeige" - eine in dier osmanischen Armee entwickelte Technik, wo Fausthiebe als schlechtes Benehmen galten - ist als Osmanli tokat (oder, grammatisch korrekter, Osmanh toakadi) bekannt und wenn man den Begriff in YouTube aufruft, sieht man auf Hunderten von Videos türkische Menschen, die geohrfeigt werden, meist von anderen türkischen Menschen, allerdings in einem Fall auch von einem Affen. Allein der Gedanke an meine Reise nach Tokat bereitete meiner Mutter schlafloser Nächte.
Muzaffar gab sich die größte Mühe, mir beizubringen, wie man eine gute Wassermelone kauft. Manche Leute seien der Ansicht, sagte er, dass eine Wassermelone schwer und fest sein sollte. Andere meinten, die besten Melonen seien groß und und leicht. Damt war mir also nicht geholfen. Eine gute Wassermelone musste einen orangefarbenen Fleck haben, an dem man sehen konnte, wo sie in der Sonne gelegen, und einen trockenen Nabel, der zeigt, dass sich der Stiel von selbst gelöst hatte. Wenn man mit der rechten Hand an die Melone klopfte, musste si in der linken Hand mitschwingen. Bei der Schale war das wichtigste nicht die Farbe, sondern der Kontrast zwischen den verschiedenen Farben. [...] Unterdessen hatte er mir so überzeugend eingeredet, dass man versuchen werde, mir die schlechteste Wassermelone anzudrehen und mir zu viel dafür abzuknöpfen, dass ich den Mut verlor und überhaupt keine Melonen kaufte.
Böse Geister ist die Geschichte gewisser "sehr sonderbarer Ereignisse" in einer "bislang in keiner Weise bemerkenswerten" russischen Provinzstadt. Der Erzähler, dessen weitschweifig-exzentrische Chronik Vorkommnisse enthält, die er unmöglich selbst miterlebt haben kann, ist der Freund einer der Hauptfiguren des Romans, des alternden Pädagogen, Dichters und früheren Glehrten Stephan Trofimowitsch, dessen akademischer Ruf darauf beruht, dass es ihm gelang, eine brillante Dissertation zu verteidigen über "die in der Zeit zwischen 1413 und 1428 sich gerade entwickelnde politische und hanseatische Bedeutung des deutschen Städtchens Hanau und zugleich über die speziellen und unklaren Gründe, weshalb diese Bedeutung ausblieb."
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See also Elif Batuman 's New Yorker article on Turkish food (4/19/2010)
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