The Possessed

Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Elif Batuman

Published: 1 March 2018
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781783784516

Other Editions


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Published: 5 April 2012
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781847083142

Ebook Available


The true story of one woman's intellectual and sentimental education and her strange encounters with others devoted - absurdly, melancholically, ecstatically - to the Russian classics

Roaming from Tashkent to San Francisco, this is the true story of one budding writer's strange encounters with the fanatics who are devoted - absurdly! melancholically! ecstatically! - to the Russian classics. Combining fresh readings of the great Russians from Gogol to Goncharov with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence, The Possessed introduces a brilliant and distinctive new voice: comic, humane, charming, poignant and completely, and unpretentiously, full of an infectious love for literature.

About the author

Image of Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. She now lives in Twin Peaks, San Francisco (near the radio tower). Her writing has been published in the New Yorker, n+1, Harper's, LRB and the Guardian. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award. This is her first book. More about the author


The Possessed weaves anecdotes and literary criticism around Batuman's tales of her adventures in America, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Russia ... In some complicated way, this is a book about the relationship between art and life. But it's also a simple book about the relationship between art and life. Or, rather, it's a complicated book about the simple relationship between the two. In the end, all memoirs tend to end up as a defence of something. Batuman's is a defence of reading as a form of living’ Ian Sansom



‘A vividly engaging travelogue-cum-memoir ... Batuman is an astute observer with a terrific sense of humour and immense bravado’ Eileen Battersby

‘An eccentric, funny and always perceptive account of the authors long time immersion in the classics of Russian literature’

‘An intoxicating mix of travel memoir, autobiography, literary criticism and philosophy... charming and hilarious’

‘Batuman's refreshingly unlikely memoir recounts how she decided to devote her life to studying the great Russian novelists ... the result is the funniest book you're ever likely to read about Russian fiction’ Robert Collins

‘Charming, complex and life-enhancing’ Sarah Bakewell

‘Dazzlingly good ... very bookish, very clever and very funny ... [The Possessed is] a preposterously engaging volume’ Jane Shilling

‘Deeply clever and very funny’

‘Elif Batuman seems at home in that borderland between tragedy and comedy the great Russian writers colonised. The Possessed is insightful, poignant and very funny’ James Meek

‘Hilarious, wide-ranging, erudite, and memorable’

‘I loved Batuman's quirky and perceptive account of her passion for Russian literature ... A move away from objective criticism towards the personal and what books actually mean to people, it is hugely appealing’ Lesley McDowell

‘Odd and oddly profound ... she's the kind of reader who sends you back to your bookshelves with a sublime buzz in your head. You want to feel what she's feeling. It's tempting to keep quoting her book forever’

‘The highest compliment you can pay such a book is that it sends you back to the original authors refreshed. I can go one higher - I found myself simply wanting to read more from Elif Batuman’

‘Told in nimble and often funny prose’

‘Wildly original, creatively rambling... the funniest book I've read in a long time: its deadpan, dry humour and its accumulation of absurdities will leave you rolling on your floor with laughter’

‘Wise and delightfully funny’ Rachel Polonsky

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