Nick's Reviews > The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

The Possessed by Elif Batuman
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Sep 03, 11

Read from August 29 to September 03, 2011

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why I didn't love this book - a nerdy book about researching Russian novels and the nerds who do it is exactly up my alley and Batuman has some very striking ideas. And it was a breeze to get through. But there's something missing in her prose. Enthusiasm, maybe. Maybe empathy. She treats most of the people in her stories with mild condescension, smug bewilderment, or plain detachment and overall I was left wondering if Batuman herself is really this self-absorbed or if this is simply a narrative technique. I should have been wondering about "Russian books," et cetera, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for her first book.

Living in Kazakhstan, the episodes in Uzbekistan are very familiar but...what are they doing here? The chapters on Uzbek poetry have virtually nothing to do with Russian anything (excepting the occasional aside: "I was thinking about Tolstoy" or whatever), especially since the rest of the book completely ignores the Soviet period.

Also, the entire plot of The Possessed/Demons (the Dostoevsky novel) is hashed out in the middle of the last piece. So if, like me, you have yet to read that...spoilers on board.

Plus she rags on Orhan Pamuk. Tacky.
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