Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dostoevsky and Me // A grad student's improbable journey through Russian language and literature

Back on February 8th,
New Creation highlighted a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Elif Bautman (Between Art & Criticism) that offered a window into her upcoming book The Possessed, which tells the true tale of her improbable and fascinating journey through graduate school studying Russian language and literature. Read an excerpt of the euphoric New York Times review of Bautman's recently released book below, or follow this link to read it in full.

// Excerpt //

To study first-year French is to enter a world of savoir-faire, beauty and romance. Instructive filmstrips show master chefs whisking halos of caramelized sugar; or Versailles woodworkers restoring antique marquetry; or Gallic lovers in deux chevaux, illustrating how “to go” and “to be” while tooting off for a weekend in Marseille. But this is not the world of Russian 101. In Russian 101, you get grainy black-and-white photos of concert halls “closed for repairs,” and you learn bitter dialogues like this one:

Sasha: “How are you doing?”

Anton: “Don’t even ask.”

Sasha: “What’s that you’re reading?”

Anton: “Dostoyevsky.”

Sasha: “That’s why you’re upset.”

Anton: “Thanks for the information.”

Like Sasha and Anton, you and your fellow Russian students are moody, intense and ill clad. Yet for those whom the Russia bug bites, it can set off a passion more tumultuous and enduring than any French infatuation.

Elif Batuman is one of the bitten. A first-generation Turkish-American from New Jersey, she had “no real academic aspirations” until the fateful day when she stepped into a beginning Russian class. In “The Possessed,” her fantastically entertaining memoir-cum-travelogue of her education in Russian (and Uzbek!) language and literature — in Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Uzbekistan and suburban California — she explains why Russian class struck her as so “profoundly human.”

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