The Possessed:  Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, Elif Batuman, 2010

Nominated for the New York Book Critics Circle Award, this is an uneven set of loosely related essays by a Turkish-American, Harvard and Stanford educated young woman.  Batuman, a staff writer for the New Yorker and originally published in n+1, studied Russian literature as a grad student and decided to visit the sites of many of Russia’s great writers’ efforts.  A visit to Florence where Dostoyevsky wrote the Idiot and Demons (also known at Possessed), a long summer in Samarkand where Uzbek poetry and language was a long, boring interlude, a visit to Tolstoy’s Yosnaya Polyana estate for a conference, a visit to St. Petersburg to see a reconstruction of Tsar Peter I’s niece Anna, empress at 37 years of age, etc.  Some very funny parts, but too many dull ones.  I’d give this a pass unless you’re a Russian lit lover.