By Elif Batuman
One of The Economist's 2011 Books of the 12 months
THE actual yet not likely tales OF LIVES DEVOTED-ABSURDLY! MELANCHOLICALLY! BEAUTIFULLY!-TO THE RUSSIAN CLASSICS
No one that learn Elif Batuman's first article (in the magazine n+1) will ever disregard it. "Babel in California" advised the real tale of varied human destinies intersecting at Stanford collage in the course of a convention concerning the enigmatic author Isaac Babel. Over the process a number of pages, Batuman controlled to misplace Babel's final dwelling family on the San Francisco airport, discover Babel's mystery impact at the making of King Kong, and introduce her readers to a brand new voice that used to be unpredictable, comedian, humane, ironic, fascinating, poignant, and fully, unpretentiously jam-packed with love for literature.
Batuman's next pieces-for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and the London evaluation of Books- have made her essentially the most sought-after and in demand writers of her new release, and its most sensible touring significant other. In The Possessed we watch her examine a potential homicide at Tolstoy's ancestral property. We opt for her to Stanford, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg; retrace Pushkin's wanderings within the Caucasus; examine why previous Uzbek has 100 diverse phrases for crying; and spot an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed at the Neva.
Love and the radical, the person in historical past, the existential plight of the graduate scholar: all locate their position in The Possessed. actually and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favourite authors, Batuman searches for the solutions to the massive questions within the info of lived event, combining clean readings of the nice Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the unhappy and humorous tales of the lives they proceed to influence-including her own.
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Extra resources for The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
There have been ingenious inquiries into the 51 scenario of the opening lines in major dialogues; but no systematic critical examination of how urban and rural, private or public set tings, mises en scene, initiate and inform the subsequent dialectic. I know of no comprehensive look at the role of entrances and exits in the dialogues though these are as paced and shaping as in any great play. The Platonic account of the trial and death of Socrates has long been regarded, together with Golgotha, as archetypal of western tragic art and feeling in toto.
As the Charmides gets under way, Socrates has just returned from the bitter battle at Potidea. " Virtually always Plato signals precise locations, 61 many of whose implicit references or symbolism are bound to elude us. Thus Socrates is walking from the Academy to the Lyceum along the road which skirts the outside of the city walls. He "has reached the little gate where the Panops has its source" when he chances on a cluster of young men eager to engage him.
This conviction, set out with chilling severity in the Laws, has generated numerous pro grams of " thought control" and censorship, whether inquisitorial, Puritan, Jacobin, fascist or Leninist. The unfettered poet or novelist energizes, exemplifies the rebellious irresponsibilities of the imagi nation. He is always to the left of official sentiment. In the economy, always under pressure, of civic means and obligations the aesthetic can entail both waste and subversion. From this point of view Plato does worse than repudiate the "open society " (Popper's celebrated indictment) : he repudiates the open mind.
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman