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From Barnes & NobleBarnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
The subtitle of Batuman’s debut is “Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.” The giveaway is the Roz Chast cartoon on the jacket. A humorous journey through graduate school and Russian literature, The Possessed is proof positive that even the most daunting subject can be made interesting in the hands of a gifted writer.
When Batuman falls for the work of Isaac Babel, the result is her hyper-literate take on a one-sided love affair. She tries, again and again, to free herself from the shackles of a career in academia. She explores creative writing workshops and spends a summer learning Uzbek, but she can’t tear herself from her first love. She’s as doomed to be run over by a PhD in Russian literature as Anna Karenina was to be hit by a train.
Among her entertaining adventures, Batuman’s rabbit trails include some unconventional ideas that didn’t fit into her formal studies: the possibility that Tolstoy was murdered at 82, and the “immoral decadence” of the House of Ice, a copy of an 18th-century castle where Peter the Great’s niece forced two jesters to marry and spend their honeymoon night. Batuman’s writing skills range from creating dialogue for two frogs to canine narration, and endear readers to this creative, witty writer who enlivens even the most arcane corners of academia.