Arts & Culture

Authors In Conversation: Ben Greenman And Elif Batuman

Ben Greenman and Elif Batuman are not from the school of thought that Russian literature has to be all dark and gloomy. In this exclusive video, we sit down with the two authors. Read More

By / November 8, 2010

Things that you probably didn’t know about Russian literature:

  • Dostoevsky starting his book, Notes From the Underground, with the line “I AM A SICK MAN…. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man,” was the basis for the 1979 comedy, The Jerk.
  • War And Peace was originally started with the intent of writing (in Tolstoy’s words) “a really great musical comedy.”
  • The only words Harpo Marx ever said on camera were actually a Pushkin quote.  The footage was sadly lost.

Actually, none of those are true, but who is to say they couldn’t be, and why does everybody think Russian literature has to be dark and gloomy?

Ben Greenman and Elif Batuman are two authors not from that school of thought.  Greenman’s latest book, Celebrity Chekov, omits the characters from the short stories of one of Russia’s most celebrated writers, and inserts contemporary celebrities in their places.   Batuman’s book, The Possessed, is a candid and hilarious look inside the world of experts on writers like Isaac Babel and Leo Tolstoy.  Both books are connected by the fact that the writers genuinely love and appreciate Russian literature, but can also view the genre through rose-colored glasses.

We asked both authors some questions for this exclusive interview.