The true story of one woman’s intellectual and sentimental education and her strange encounters with others devoted – absurdly! melancholically! ecstatically! – to the Russian classics. Opening with a description of a conference about Isaac Babel in California at which various destinies intersect, Elif Batuman follows the footsteps of her favourite authors both literally and metaphorically, searching for the answers to the big questions. She investigates a possible murder at Tolstoy’s ancestral estate, travels to Samarkand and St Petersburg; retraces Pushkin’s wanderings in the Caucasus; learns why Old Uzbek has one hundred different words for crying; and sees an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed on the Neva. Combining fresh readings of the great Russians from Gogol to Goncharov with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence, The Possessed introduces a brilliant and distinctive new voice: comic, humane, charming, poignant and completely, and unpretentiously, full of an infectious love for literature.