§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

Misha Vainberg is a Russian Jew with a degree in multiculturism from Accidental College (somewhere near Chicago). His father is the 1,238th-richest man in Russia—one of the new businessmen/gangsters of contemporary Moscow. Misha, 30 years old and 300 pounds is exuberant, emotional and in love with New York (and the money his father’s “business” provides) and with Rouenna from the South Bronx for whom he pays the dental bills and the tuition to Hunter College.

Misha goes back to Russia (to the city he often calls St. Leninsburg) and keeps in touch with Rouenna (and his shrink) by phone and the Internet. While he is there his father is murdered and Misha can’t get a US visa because his father killed an influential person from Oklahoma. And Rouenna makes noises that suggest she’s falling in love with Jerry Shteynfarb (author of "The Russian Arriviste's Hand Job")—clearly a jab at the author himself (author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook) even down to the goatee that’s prominent on the dust cover picture. Misha sees Shteynfarb as not a “real Russian” because he emigrated as a child.

Misha, desperate to get back to New York where he “belongs”, follows a lead to an obscure republic on the Caspian Sea where he expects to find a crooked diplomat who can get him Belgian citizenship and passport which he hopes will allow him back to NY. It’s when Misha goes to Absurdistan that the satire (which made me laugh hysterically in the first part), takes over and the plot becomes…yes, absurd, and the satire a little too much. Misha writes a proposal when he gets made a minister in the opportunistic government—run by the father of his current girlfriend—that maneuvers to make other powers bomb them so they can get AID from the US to rebuild. (Turns out they’re desperate because the oil’s run out though neither they nor Golly Burton will admit it). Misha hasn’t figured that out yet; his idealistic grant proposal reminds me of a satiric newsletter I wrote in grad school when I should have been studying.

In NY and St. Petersburg the satire is really funny but the Absurdistan stuff got tedious. I can see the comparison to Catch 22—there are a lot of really good digs, but I don’t think the whole novel really holds up.


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