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Бесы. Приключения русской литературы и людей, которые ее читают

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  3,906 ratings  ·  697 reviews
"Лишний человек", "луч света в темном царстве", "среда заела", "декабристы разбудили Герцена"… Унылые литературные штампы. Многие из нас оставили знакомство с русской классикой в школьных годах - натянутое, неприятное и прохладное знакомство. Взрослые возвращаются к произведениям школьной программы лишь через много лет. И удивляются, и радуются, и влюбляются в то, что когд ...more
Paperback, 310 pages
Published 2018 (first published February 16th 2010)
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Start your review of Бесы. Приключения русской литературы и людей, которые ее читают
Ines
Jan 29, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a strange and particular reading, I read it in a few days, not because it had something very special, I was more than curious to read the experiences lived by Elif in the various Russian places she visited.
Yes, this PhD student is very good at making us believe this introspection of books, which turned out to be a little different and modified from the book's title...
With hindsight, and after due hours of reflection, I find myself admitting also that this book is structurally a bunch of tra
...more
Jan-Maat
I laughed reading this book. I read it in bed, I read in an armchair, I read it standing up in the kitchen, I read it standing up in the hallway, I read it in the garden on a mildly wobbly bench which I may never finish repairing, who knows, and in most of those places I laughed, apart from the hallway. The hallway is intrinsically lacking in humour, it is not it's fault and perhaps other hallways are quite funny I wouldn't like to make sweeping assumptions about the places where other people li ...more
David
There are flashes of charm in this book, counterbalanced by some very tedious patches indeed. Elif Batuman is apparently well-connected enough to have Roz Chast do the artwork for the book cover. She also seems to have a remarkable talent for self-promotion. This book has generated a considerable amount of buzz, and some near-hagiographic reviews.

I don't quite understand why. If one wanted to view things uncharitably, Ms Batuman spent seven somewhat aimless years as a graduate student in compar
...more
Julie Ehlers
That The Possessed got published at all is somewhat bewildering. What is this book, anyway? Its subtitle claims it's about "Russian books and the people who read them," but that's not entirely accurate. It's really Batuman's memoir of her time in grad school at Stanford: her interactions with professors and fellow students, her time at a Tolstoy conference at Tolstoy's old estate, a trip to the recreated "ice palace" in St. Petersburg, and her summer spent in Uzbekistan attempting to learn about ...more
Darwin8u
Aug 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
El
I've been wanting to read this one for a while, since it was blurbed (I think) in the NY Times or on NPR or on Slate.com - or all of the above. As someone who reads Russian books (and enjoys them!) and is interested in Russian cultural studies, I thought this book was written for me. I didn't understand the title at first - shouldn't it read The Possessed El: This One is for You? But I got over that and then began to wonder, "Who are these other, alleged, 'People Who Read Them'? I want names!"

Tu
...more
RandomAnthony
Elif Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them emerged, in my imagination, through conversations of this nature:

Elif: I'm writing an article about the weird academicians who showed up for the Babel conference.

Elif's friend/colleague (EFC): You should turn that into a book.

Elif: There's not enough material for a book.

EFC: So? Just make it longer. Add your weird trips to all those countries that used to be part of Russia but aren't anymore.

Elif: What would
...more
Katia N
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is a mixture of personal experience including PhD studying and various related travel assignments with the analysis of the grandees of Russian literature. Babel, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky all take turns alongside with more obscure Lazhechnikov. I do not think everyone will enjoy it as much as I did. But she has hit all the right notes for me. I like her self deprecating humour, her insights into literary theories and her choice of books. For example, she picks “Black monk” fro ...more
Janet
Mar 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Read like wildfire, though personally I could have used more, more Russian books--and a bit less random student adventures--the Samarkhand stuff got too long for me. The last essay, I think, the Possessed, was the best. She's got a great way with turn of phrase, very funny, wonderful sense of characterization, and especially the spot-on Russians. Would have loved that mind turned even more to the literature itself. Looking forward to reading her academic work, even hoping she'll someday do somet ...more
Melanie
Dec 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eastern_europe, 2010
I've known people like Elif Batuman--brilliant people who can't reply to the question "How are you today?" without a.) quoting literature, and then b.) quoting some obscure but relevant work of critical theory (and then maybe c.) adding an interesting bit of historical trivia, just for fun). It can take awhile to realize that, for this kind of person, that is actually how they feel--they've answered your question, you just might have to work a little harder to translate it into an "I'm fine" or ...more
Ed
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of essays on Russian literature that is both funny and learned by an academic who writes very well. Excellent short discussion of Anna Karenina, The Possessed (hence the title although it is also about those who get possessed by Russian literature and by the study of language as language) and Isaac Babel with a side trip to Samarkand which seems to have become one of the least romantic and dreariest places on the old Silk Road.

Her description of academic conferences in St. Petersbu
...more
Rod
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some reviewers seem not to like this, claiming that the author is "unlikable" and "shallow." How anyone can make either of these claims having read this book is quite beyond me. Elif Batuman seems almost irresistibly charming, and shallow is definitely not the word for her. Regardless of her interpretations of the works at hand (and I can't claim to have read much past the obvious Tolstoy and Dostoevsky classics), her writing about those works and authors is tremendously impressive, her descript ...more
eb
Sep 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book, and I'm not sure I've read anything quite like it before. Batuman is a comp lit PhD, and in The Possessed, she blends her academician's knowledge and critical vocabulary with dryly hilarious stories about herself and her experiences reading and studying Tolstoy, Chekhov, and the other Russian greats. Batuman's voice is unique, which is one of those claims you encounter on every book jacket ever printed, but hers really is. She's funny, compassionate, observant, plainspoken, and ...more
La Petite Américaine Cash App: $Covid2020sucks
I enjoyed this book immensely. I actually want to reread it. It's one of those books where the author just assumes you speak French and understand what the hell she's talking about when she fires out comparative lit terminology using a vocabulary that requires a dictionary for the rest of us to comprehend. Either she's a brilliant intellectual or has just been in grad school too long. Probably both.

She gives vivid accounts of Tolstoy's last hours, she retells the horrific story of the demente
...more
Alec Scott
A lovely wit infuses this book, but she gets sidetracked. Initially she writes (beautifully) about her reaction to the great Russian writers -- and that's what the title promises the book will be about. But then she starts to tell us, detail for detail, about her rather hapless study journeys to Russia, and the whole thing become a bagatelle -- slightly amusing but insignificant. Still, she's great at thumbnail sketches of people -- as witness: "Cowper, best remembed as the author of the hymn "G ...more
Jason Pettus
Mar 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers know that I've become a big fan recently of the so-called "NPR-worthy" book; and by that I mean a nonfiction title that combines the research of academia with the quirkiness and readability of the beach-and-airport crowd, delivering a lively but thought-provoking manuscript by the end that
...more
Aubrey
2.5/5
In any case, I stopped believing that "theory" had the power to ruin literature for anyone, or that it was possible to compromise something you loved by studying it. Was love really such a tenuous thing? Wasn't the point of love that it made you want to learn more, to immerse yourself, to become possessed?
This book's only interesting if you already find interesting to an inordinate degree such things as academic drama, poorly observed countries whose descriptions rarely grace the conten
...more
Anna
I’m inclined to classify ‘The Possessed’ with Underfoot in Show Business and You Must Go and Win: Essays as ‘very funny and clever anecdotal autobiographies of the professional and personal lives of women who I’d like to be friends with’. This one has the added advantage of being concerned with postgraduate life, although PhDs in the US are very different to those in the UK. As I understand it, across the pond they take longer, involve exams and compulsory teaching, and constitute more of an aca ...more
Josh
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book I wish I'd written - but then doesn't saying that show that I've missed the deeper lesson of The Possessed, meaning the lesson of all fairy tales, which as Joseph Campbell put it goes something like "Where you stumble, there is your treasure"? Well then, let's try it again. Elif Batuman is a romantic soul and a romantic soul can fall in love with anything; so her book - which explores, at least as well as Huey Lewis or Drew Barrymore, the unlikely, overwhelming and occasionally creepy Pow ...more
Michael
Taken from the articles found in journals like n+1, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the London Review of Books, Elif Batuman combines them into this memoir. The Possessed may be a collection journal articles, but combined together it forms more of a memoir of Batuman’s academic life. Starting with a conference she was involved with at Stanford University about Isaac Babel in the first article “Babel in California”.

I mention the first article “Babel in California” because I think it repres
...more
Silvia
May 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
UNEVEN is the best word to describe this book. After the stellar review in the NYT and the hype around it (sold out in some bookstores), I expected "The Possessed" to be, well, much more than what it is. That's the danger with great reviews, I guess..
Elif Batuman is a preternaturally gifted writer, very funny, amazingly knowledgeable and wise for her age (is she thirty yet??), but some of her essays are more patch-up work than accomplished pieces. Especially the Summer in Samarkand ones. As she
...more
s
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
is it even possible to read this without immediately coveting elif batuman's life
Rita Kotenko
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It is funny, despite being about Russian literature.
Daisy
Instructive, illuminating, intelligent, funny, accessible.

In places, it both romanticizes and demystifies the life of a modern intellectual. She'll reference Dostoevsky and Safeway supermarkets in the same paragraph, or Tolstoy conferences and shampoo.

She stays true to her intention of exploring how to bring your life closer to your favorite books. This is readable and charming. As time goes by I probably won't remember the literary details as I will the descriptions of Samarkand, Stanford, St.
...more
Jim
One of the things I learned from Elif Batuman's splendid book about Russian literature and culture -- The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them -- is that being a graduate student is a particularly thankless activity. I felt that intensely as I studied film history and criticism at UCLA, wondering why I wanted to become a professor when so many of the professors I encountered were dyed-in-the-wool asswipes.

And yet, at the end of the book, the author admits: "If I
...more
Bob
Aug 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bob by: reviewed in Stanford Today
Shelves: russia
Anticipating an "introduction" to Russian literature, the book turned out to be a memoir on life as a graduate student, seeking an identity ("As a six-foot-tall first-generation Turkish woman growing up in New Jersey..."), and the joy of relating what we read to how we live. Her style is no small part of the work's delight.
On literary criticism: "...someone who likes to keep to a minimum her visits to Planet Derrida -- that land where all seemingly secondary phenomena are actually primary, and
...more
Brian
May 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ostensibly, I'm in the target audience for this book, since 19th century Russian literature is one of my favorite eras and Dostoevsky is my favorite author. However, this book takes too many boring and seemingly inconsequential sidetracks. The book is subtitled "Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" and Batuman reads Russian books, so really any tangential topic is fair game. Technically not misleading, but not what I was expecting.

The book is composed of 4 essays on Russia
...more
Farren
May 01, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of nonfiction essays gleaned from Batuman's days as a Russian Lit post-grad at Stanford. While her description and diagnosis of novels was illuminating, it also sometimes got a little pedantic and lecture-y. I was most entertained by the similar absurdities of dwelling in academia and eastern europe. The book posits itself at the outset as something trying to get *past* the novel. Having diagnosed all writers, in the foreward, with the desire to emulate their own favorite novels, sh ...more
Booksy
May 05, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
I had great expectations for this book, being a Russian literature lover myself, I was very interested to read about the authors adventures while studying classical Russian novels and they way she felt about the characters, the stories etc.

What a disappointment this book was: it is full of clumsy segues, far-fetched comparisons (e.g., comparing "Anna Karenina" to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", why???), artificially constructed parallels between the events of Russian history and the author'
...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Apr 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: may-jun-2010
Possibly the best thing to come out of a graduate program in recent years (Dallas Morning News), Batuman's intriguing blend of travelogue, autobiography, and literary criticism offers a fresh perspective on some of Russia's greatest authors. Despite its challenging subject matter, The Possessed is accessible and entertaining, written with sly humor and a keen eye for absurdity. Some critics considered its essays uneven, but they still praised Batuman's infectious delight in literature and her ex ...more
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Imprinted Life: Elif's fascination with Russian literature 11 35 Apr 26, 2013 05:58PM  

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