Rachel Polonsky

Sentimental Education

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them


Granta Books 298pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

If this wise and delightfully funny book were a novel, it would be a Bildungsroman. But the fact that it is not a novel is the point. The Possessed is a book about how its author – who starts out wanting ‘to be a writer, not an academic’ – grows up and finds answers to her questions by failing to write a novel and dropping back into graduate school instead:

What if … instead of living your own version of Lost Illusions, in order to someday write the same novel for twenty-first-century America – what if instead you went to Balzac’s house and … read every word he ever wrote, dug up every last thing you could about him – and then started writing?

‘That’, she tells us simply, ‘is the idea behind this book.’

A six-foot tall, first-generation Turkish literature major from New Jersey, Elif Batuman, lucky heir to the

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter