Rachel Polonsky

Sentimental Education

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

By

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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

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