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Thursday, Feb 25, 2010
by PopMatters Staff
by Elif Batuman
The Chronicle of Higher Education (7 February 2010)

“Elif Batuman has written for n+1, Harper’s, and The New Yorker and teaches literature at Stanford University. She writes in her new book, The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, that the title is “borrowed from Dostoevsky’s weirdest novel, The Demons, formerly translated as The Possessed, which narrates the descent into madness of a circle of intellectuals in a remote Russian province: a situation analogous, in certain ways, to my own experiences in graduate school.”


Graduate school changed her thinking about a lot of things, she writes in The Possessed, which chronicles her own education as a writer—her adventures in reading and thinking about books and writers, both inside academe and out. Among her discoveries is that she has the wild soul of ... an academic. “What if you read Balzac’s Lost Illusions,” she writes, “and, instead of moving to New York, living in a garret, self-publishing your poetry, writing book reviews, and having love affairs­—instead of living your own version of Lost Illusions, in order to someday write the same novel for 21st-century America—what if instead you went to Balzac’s house and Madame Hanska’s estate, read every word he ever wrote, dug up every last thing you could about him—and then started writing?”


That, says Batuman, was the idea behind her book.”


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