I felt sorry for the German historian. I understood that it was the inadequacy of without his glasses and with one black eye that drove him to use a phrase so absurd as medically speaking a monocle haematoma. The absence of glasses is unspeakably violent. You need long words, Latin words, to describe it. Babel was never photographed without his glasses. He never wrote without them, either. His narrator always has, to quote a popular line from the Odessa stories, spectacles on his nose and autumn in his heart. Another famous line, spoken by Babels narrator to a nearsighted comrade at a beautiful Finnish winter resort: I beg you, Alexander Fyodorovich, buy a pair of glasses!
Excerpted from The Possessed by Elif Batuman.
Copyright © 2010 by Elif Batuman.
Published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Blood at the Root
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