“The Possessed” Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them, by Elif Batuman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010

A small diary of the post graduate student is brilliantly written in English by an American writer Elif Batuman in 2010.The topics mentioned in the Contents are: Babel in California, Summer in Samarkand, Who Killed Tolstoy?, The House of Ice, the Possessed. The only reader of the Russian great authors here is Miss Batuman herself. Nothing wrong about that. So, Elif Batuman expresses her own feelings and emotions fascinated by Russian literature. It came out as a diary with long analysing escapades of Russian style and mentality. The narrative is done in a teasing manner, some kind of game with a reader. It’s understandable: Elif is young from the contemporary age. Turkish by origin, she travelled a lot to Uzbekistan, Russia, spent a lot of time in the libraries preparing researches and picking up the most famous Russian names as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Babel for immersing in their creative workshops. But understanding the big ones? I do not think that Elif has grasped them.

Myself, being raised and educated in Russia, fond of Russian literature as well as many others, always have had problems of understanding my compatriot- writers as life went on, so many additional materials, documents are open to the wide public now. It is very difficult for us in 2019 to judge the big thinkers as Tolstoy,, Dostoevsky. In Tolstoy’s notable treatise “What is Art?” is written: “Eternal truth and beauty is in art, the artist is a man of his own times”. The great thinker Tolstoy was concerned in 1860 about who was a reader of his novels if one per cent of some seventy millions of Russian population were literate. Nowadays about 100 % of Russian people can read, write and do maths. By the way, it’s a tribute to the Communist Russia.

In 2019 Elif Batuman’s reader is a digital reader who reads mainly the headlines of news and rarely has a paperback in his or her hands. Maybe, this is the reason why Elif Batuman is teasing her readers by dropping names of the great Russian authors to attract their special attention and sell the bools. “The Idiot” (2017), her second book reflects again her incredible passion for the big Russian authors’ names only. And nothing else. Entertaining literature is for people who like to be entertained.

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