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

The Possessed by Elif Batuman
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C 111x148
's review
May 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2012

I don't know how this book spins the graduate student lifestyle as vividly horrible and extremely romanticized at the same time. Perhaps that's because it is?

Too intellectually rooted to be a travel memoir and too anecdotal and free-wheeling to be a book of theoretical essays, this is something in between, and wonderful, and very possibly completely new. Elif Batuman's writing voice is astoundingly charming.

Besides being at turns hilarious and touching, these essays reminded me how it feels, viscerally, in the moment, to be so obsessed with your field of study that all things seem to swirl and narrow around it. There's plenty of excellent creative nonfiction that doesn't do that for me, but I get that shock of a reminder whenever I read what ends up being one of my very favorites. Perhaps the fact that this was about literature gave it a leg up; or maybe it's just the effortless shift between registers that does it, that somehow connects desperate heartbroken love and the critical theories of desire in a way that makes them into one narrative without either being weakened. That sort of thing.
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