Synopses & Reviews
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.
Meet Misha Vainberg, aka "Snack Daddy," a 325-pound disaster of a human being, son of the 1,238th-richest man in Russia, proud holder of a degree in multicultural studies from Accidental College, USA (don't even ask), and patriot of no country save the great City of New York. Poor Misha just wants to live in the South Bronx with his hot Latina girlfriend, but after his gangster father murders an Oklahoma businessman in Russia, all hopes of a U.S. visa are lost.
Salvation lies 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.
With the enormous success of The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Gary 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. In Absurdistan, he delivers an even funnier and wiser literary performance. Misha Vainberg is a hero for the new century, a glimmer of humanity in a world of dashed hopes.
"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 they have caused him: a botched bris performed on Misha at age 18 by New York City's Hasid-run Mitzvah Mobile, and Rouenna running off with his stateside rival (and Shteyngart's doppelganger), Jerry Shteynfarb (author of The Russian Arriviste's Hand Job) while Misha is stuck in Russia. 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) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Shteyngart's] characters are too grotesque to prompt much sympathy. And yet again, an author relies on the fact that 9/11 is approaching to pump up his climax's suspense....Leaves a very sour aftertaste but that's probably the point." Kirkus Reviews
"[R]iotously original....Richly satiric and filled with trenchant one-liners, this tale often reads like a Russian version of A Confederacy of Dunces (with a bit of The Idiot and The Mouse That Roared thrown in). Highly recommended." Library Journal
"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." Aleksandar Hemon, author of Nowhere Man
"The entire second half of Absurdistan suffers from a lack of clarity and momentum....In the end Misha gives new meaning to that archetype of Russian literature the 'superfluous man' while Mr. Shteyngart's novel manages to seem equally beside the point." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Gary Shteyngart's humor fits firmly in the satirical Russian tradition of Gogol and Goncharov....The novel is a long, funny, heartbreaking lament for home, whatever that means, and wherever that might be." Los Angeles Times
"Like its narrator, Absurdistan is weighty. But when Shteyngart is at his best, his book is a riotous, often sad, but redemptive ride that is never weighed down by its big topics." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Absurdistan is a Monster Truck Rally of a satire, sort of Jonathan Swift does South Park with help from Rabelais, Gogol, Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Evelyn Waugh and Joseph Heller." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Compared with most young novelists his age, who tend toward cutesy involution, Shteyngart is a giant mounted on horseback. He ranges more widely, sees more sweepingly and gets where he's going with far more aplomb." Walter Kirn, New York Times
About the Author
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. His debut novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book, a best book of the year by the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and one of the best debuts of the year by the Guardian. His fiction and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, GQ, Esquire, and many other publications. He lives in New York.