Publisher description for Absurdistan : a novel / Gary Shteyngart.
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“Absurdistan is not just a hilarious novel, but a record of a particular peak in the history of human folly. No one is more capable of dealing with the transition from the hell of socialism to the hell of capitalism in Eastern Europe than Shteyngart, the great-great grandson of one Nikolai Gogol and the funniest foreigner alive.”
From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook comes the uproarious and poignant story of one very fat man and one very small country.
Open Absurdistan and meet outsize Misha Vainberg, son of the 1,238th-richest man in Russia, lover of large portions of food and drink, lover and inept performer of rap music, and lover of a South Bronx Latina whom he longs to rejoin in New York, if only the American INS would grant him a visa. But it won’t, because Misha’s late Beloved Papa whacked an Oklahoma businessman of some prominence. And Misha is paying the price of exile from his adopted American homeland. He’s stuck in Russia, dreaming of his beloved Rouenna and the Oz of NYC.
Salvation may lie in the tiny, oil-rich nation of Absurdistan, where a crooked consular officer will sell Misha a Belgian passport. But after a civil war breaks out between two competing ethnic groups and a local warlord installs hapless Misha as Minister of Multicultural Affairs, our hero soon finds himself covered in oil, fighting for his life, falling in love, and trying to figure out if a normal life is still possible in the twenty-first Century.
Populated by curvaceous brown-eyed beauties, circumcision-happy [crazed? zealous?] Hasidic Jews, a loyal manservant who never stops serving, and scheming oil execs from a certain American company whose name rhymes with Malliburton, Absurdistan is a strange, oddly true-to-life look at how we live now from a writer who should know.
With the enormous success of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Shteyngart established himself as a central figure in today’s literary world–“one of the most talented and entertaining writers of his generation,” according to The New York Observer. And in Absurdistan, he gives an even funnier and wiser literary performance. In Misha Vainberg, he has invented a hero for the new century, a glimmer of humanity in a world of lost hope.
Misha Vainberg, the rich, arrogant and very funny hero of Shteyngart's follow-up to The Russian Debutante's Handbook, compares himself early on to Prince Myshkin from Dostoyevski's The Idiot: "Like the prince, I am something of a holy fool...an innocent surrounded by schemers." Readers will more likely note his striking resemblance to John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius Reilly. A "sophisticate and a melancholic," Misha is an obese 30-year-old Russian heir to a post-Soviet fortune. After living in the Midwest and New York City for 12 years, he considers himself "an American impounded in a Russian body." But his father in St. Petersburg has killed an Oklahoma businessman and then turned up dead himself, and Misha, trying to leave Petersburg after the funeral, is denied a visa to the United States. The novel is written as his appeal, "a love letter and also a plea," to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow him to return to the States, which lovingly and hilariously follows Misha's attempt to secure a bogus Belgian passport in the tiny post-Soviet country of Absurdistan. Along the way, Shteyngart's graphic, slapstick satire portrays the American dream as experienced by hungry newborn democracies, and covers everything from crony capitalism to multiculturalism.
It's also a love story. Misha is in love with New York City and with Rouenna Sales, his "giant multicultural swallow" from the South Bronx, despite the pain of a botched bris performed on Misha at age 18 by New York City's Hasid-run Mitzvah Mobile; while Misha is stuck in Russia, Rouenna runs off with his stateside rival (and Shteyngart's doppelganger), Jerry Shteynfarb (author of "The Russian Arriviste's Hand Job"). The ruling class of Absurdistan is in love with the corrupt American company Halliburton, which is helping the rulers in a civil war in order to defraud the U.S. government. Halliburton, in turn, is in love with Absurdistan for the money it plans to make rebuilding Absurdistan's "inferstructure" and for the plentiful hookers who spend their nights and days by hotel pools looking for "Golly Burton" employees to service. And everyone is in love with America--or at least its money.
Everything in Shteyngart's frustrated world--characters, countries, landscapes--strives for U.S. style culture and prosperity, a quest that gives shape to the melancholy and hysteria of Shteyngart's Russia. Extending allegorical tentacles back to the Cold War and forward to the War on Terror, Shteyngart piles on plots, characters and flashbacks without losing any of the novel's madcap momentum, and the novel builds to a frantic pitch before coming to a breathless halt on the day before 9/11. The result is a sendup of American values abroad and a complex sympathetic protagonist worthy of comparison to America's enduring literary heroes.
_--Publishers Weekly, starred review
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