Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Possessed

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The Possessed

Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

by Elif Batuman

The Possessed
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  • Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Julie Wan

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About this Book

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 or aleph, 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 funny and sad," she told The Boston Globe.

When Batuman enrolled as a linguistics student at Harvard and chose Russian as her language requirement, she found herself increasingly drawn away from the rules of study of language as a whole and toward the much more "profoundly human" aspect of the Russian language itself. Batuman went on to complete ...

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