Elif Batuman: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Elif Batuman
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Chekhov is fun again!

Elif Batuman’s first book (parts of which appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s and n+1) is at once a travelogue, a grad-school memoir and a history of classic Russian authors. The result? Something like Twain’s The Innocents Abroad as written by a brilliant, witty, six-foot-tall Turkish-American woman with a Ph.D.

Like Twain, Batuman has a fine ear for dialogue and an eye for strange human behavior. The chapter examining the death of Tolstoy ends with one of Batuman’s elderly colleagues soiling his pants on the way to visit Chekhov’s estate. “Ladies and gentlemen, I must apologize for the delay,” he says. “I am an old man, you see. A very old man.”

Though not without skippable moments, The Possessed establishes Batuman as one of our sharpest and funniest new nonfiction writers.