This is a book review of a book about a serious obsession with books. That Elif Batuman's literary fixation happens to be with Russian books almost seems arbitrary, but, in a way, also destined: Originally a linguistics major, Batuman (a Turkish American academic in comparative literature) chose Russian as her foreign language requirement, only to find the abstraction of linguistics giving way to the much more compelling stories, culture, and language of Russia itself. Looking back, Batuman writes, "Love is a rare and valuable thing, and you don't get to choose its object."
As a book reviewer who was also once a linguistics major ultimately drawn to literature, there is some inherent bias in my enthusiasm for this book. But that, in some ways, is the point of Batuman's work: Literature and life are always intersecting; the reader is bound to find symbols, comparisons, and...
Beyond the Book
About the Author
Elif Batuman was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey, but she comes from a Turkish family. Her name, Elif, is actually the Turkish word for alif
, the first letter of the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets. Because she was born a very skinny and long baby, her parents named her after the letter, which is drawn as a straight line.
Batuman tracks the trajectory of her love affair with Russian literature in the introduction to The Possessed
. It began with a copy of Anna Karenina
in her grandmother's apartment. For her, this book encapsulates Russianness in its ability to be "simultaneously incredibly...