Book Reviews

Book Review: The Possessed.

The author, an American born to Turkish parents in New York, and presently resident of Istanbul’s Koc University, is a brilliantly playful writer, who offers in this book, a fascinating review of some Russian writers i.e L. Tolstoy, Dostoevski, A. Chekow, N. Gogol, and I. Babel with fresh and illuminating insights.

Her style captivates the reader and compels one to turn page after page to learn how the story progresses.

She wheels the reader around the world of academic conferences and study tours to Florence, Samarkand, San Francisco, and even Tolstoy’s residence (now a museum) Yasnaya Polyana.

She also reveals how some American universities spend money needlessly on useless conferences and study trips.

She masterfully introduces the reader to a number of international students at Stanford University, where she received her doctorate and now teaches, including the eccentric Croatian who eventually decides to become a Carmelite monk among others.

The book starts with a chapter on Isaac Babel, a secondary Russian writer, where she explains how she got involved in researching this writer and how a professor at Stanford organized an international conference to disseminate information and encourage discussion.

This chapter is followed by “Summer in Samarkand” to learn the Uzbek language and culture (financed by the university), then Who killed Tolstoy, with chapters on Samarkand to finish her adventures in that once famous city of Central Asia, The House of Ice, and finishes with the Possessed.

We learn that Dostoevski was a notorious gambler, so much so that he lost all his money while on his honeymoon en route to Florence, in Bad Homburg (Germany), and then had to pawn his watch. From that moment on, the couple never knew what “time it was”.

She spent seven years writing her doctoral thesis at Stanford, and in

the process developed a deep “love” for the style of some now internationally celebrated Russian writers.

Her writing is embellished by endless and interesting digressions some of them comical, and some poignant and highly entertaining, as well as insightful historical tidbits.

Elif Bakuman dislikes the idea of writing as a craft or technique, over the broad and unteachable aims of great Russian authors.

The Possessed convey the “dream like inscrutability” of Russian literature.

The Possessed is part memoir, part travelogue, part literary criticism, curious, idiosyncratic, funny and delightful to read.

A joy to read.

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