The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Possessed, by Elif Batuman

Essentially, The Possessed is Elif Batuman’s memoir about being a graduate student in Russian literature at Stanford. There’s discussion of Russian literature, but really, this is a memoir about grad school. A good and funny and insightful memoir, but my very minor issue with it is that the book is not always described as such. I enjoyed it, and I’m recommending it, but I thought the subtitle (Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them) was misleading. So now you know.

Batuman is an engaging writer, and she’s very funny. Her story about attending a Tolstoy conference is worth the price of the book. At the same time, her description of Dostoevsky’s life and work makes me feel free of guilt for not having read his work. Yes, it’s important, and no, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. There are more worthy books than one can read in a lifetime, so thanks, Elif, for taking me off the hook on this particular author.

And who goes to Samarkand? Batuman spent a summer there trying to perfect her Russian. Samarkand isn’t in Russia, it’s in Uzbekistan, but Uzbek was easier for her since she was fluent in Turkish and it seemed to be a sort of bridge language between Turkish and Russian. Or something like that. Anyway, while Batuman is opinionated, for the most part she is non-judgmental about the people she encounters, and she describes them evenly, with understanding and a bit of humor. As I said above, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

The purpose of this blog is to warn animal lovers about unpleasantness they might encounter in a given book. Batuman recounts some humorous moments involving animals. She also tells of a story by Isaac Babel in which a character kills a goose. Bird lovers (and you know who you are) might want to skip the passage beginning on page 30 and ending about 1/3 of the way down page 31, plus the last full paragraph at the bottom of page 63. Otherwise, there are just the standard mentions of pets found in most memoirs, plus a brief description of a zoo. So I am declaring this book MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

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May 2, 2010 - Posted by | autobiography, Book Reviews, literature, nonfiction, travel | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Chirp, chirp! Thanks for the warning!

    Comment by Terri | May 2, 2010 | Reply


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