“One can have a very lofty idea of literature, and at the same time have a good-natured laugh at it,” Proust said in reply to a friend’s question on how seriously books should be taken.
This is exactly what Elif Batuman does in this essay collection that doubles as a memoir. The title is lengthy and self-explanatory, and based on her book titles, one can tell how influenced she is by Russian literature: The Idiot , which I read in March, and The Possessed. It is entertaining how she manages to write such serious topics with a candid humor. Elif Batuman is of Turkish descent and she even makes fun of Orhan Pamuk. Haha!
Although written seven years earlier than The Idiot I seem to have enjoyed this more as it does away with much of the the main character’s adolescent romantic concerns present in the former. Perhaps it was the three sections of her summer in Samarkand that made this more appealing to me, where she learns that the Old Uzbek language has a hundred different words for crying! Or maybe it was that passing line that I really loved, “Wasn’t the point of love that it made you want to learn more?”
Despite not being able to say that this will be a favorite, it’s funny how it contains passages that I know will stay with me forever.