Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Possessed - Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read them

This morning I finished reading Elif graduate studies and research memoirs; I am talking about "The Possessed" by Elif Batuman. Admittedly, this book is different than other books I've read. I liked and learned from it.

Her stories about life in Samarkand was sweet and witty, duck-soup, Satan in belly, Habib the janitor, Gulya and her greed for material life, Dilorom (age of maturity is between 45-60 :)), Muzaffar and his marriage obsessed family. These stories were intertwined with stories about Uzbek language and culture. I really enjoyed reading about Navoi's work, Leili and Majnun, Shrin and Farhad, and The Logic of Birds by Farid al-Din Attar, a Sufi of Nishapur, Iran. It was absolute pleasure to read Dilorom's interpretation of Shirin and Farhad: "the eternal problem of social inequality" and "crop irrigation". The latter refers to the sixty-kilometer canal Farhad carved to prove his love for Princess of Persia Shirin; it is called Farhad-Tarash in local language and located in Province of Kermanshah in Iran.

Her research about Russian literature and history, which side tracked in many different directions, Empress Anna Romanov's lavishes, Babel, Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoevsky was very informative. But fell short of the expectation built around the title. Afterall, the title suggests adventures with Russian books.

The last chapter was a shocker! It made me wonder about her real intention of writing this book. Are we reading a mad woman's or a woman madly in love and heartbroken memoirs. Is she ok? In search for an answer, I found this review of the book on very helpful. Here is an excerpt from the review that answers my question:

She even argues that theory can help us navigate our own lives. When Matej, a charismatic grad student, wreaks emotional havoc on Batuman and her female colleagues (and some of the males, too), she makes sense of him by invoking Rene Girard's theory of "mimetic desire." Beyond all the jokes, this may be the most important contribution Batuman has to make in The Possessed. By fusing memoir and criticism, she shows how the life of literary scholarship is really lived—at its most ridiculous, and at its most unexpectedly sublime.

Overall I found this to be a good, informative, funny book about many different things! It would look better if it were published as a collection of essays or named differently. :)

No comments: