I say strangely innocent because Misha s father is a bisnezmen , who is both the source of the wealth that allows Misha to lead this chaotic life, and the source of all his problems Beloved Papa killed an Oklahoman, and now the US State Department to whom this book is addressed won t allow our poor boy to return to the land, and the lady, of his dreams Yet somehow Misha, whilst knowing full well what his father was, seems to have no connection to that world even though his father s gangster colleagues pop up at every turn The narrator is one of life s losers, and painfully self aware of the fact he manages to retain our sympathy whilst having, in fact, few good qualities Yet somehow, whatever happens, this bumbling, confused incompetent muddles through.
The theme is the pain of the immigrant, not at home in his past, yet unable to grasp the future of his dreams The tone is wicked, and sometimes very funny satire as Misha travel to Respublika Absurdisvani in search of a Visa It is located north of Iran, east of Armenia and west of the Caspian, in case you were wondering The targets are New York intelligentsia, American corporate mentality, post Soviet corruption, and many other things en route But finally, and perhaps most of all, it is about Misha s complicated relationship with his father a peculiar mixture of love and hate between two men bound together by kinship and separated by mutual incomprehension, tinged with revulsion.
But the downside is that Misha sees his life through the prism of the mutilation performed on a delicate portion of his anatomy by a botched circumcision performed by drunken Hasids when he was eighteen and for which Beloved Papa is also responsible His insecurities, his happiness, is all focussed there And this leads to endless descriptions of sexual acts we see Misha having sex, not having sex, reminiscing about sex, wishing he could be having sex over and over again Shteyngart seems obsessed with describing the sights, sounds, sensations and smells particularly the smells of sex It all gets a bit much.
And this is compounded by the language Misha thinks in I was euphemistic in the above paragraph Misha is not The worst terms from Russian obscene vocabulary are always used I can t help having the suspicion that Shteyngart is sneering at his readers like the child in the school playground who delights in repeating a naughty word over over again, simply because he knows his hearers don t know how bad it is.
So, in conclusion, this is a very mixed bag It is sometimes hilariously funny But all the mat and sweaty, unerotic sex results in the impression of diamonds buried in, well, der mo edited to remove worse word.
Absurdistan Is Not Just A Hilarious Novel, But A Record Of A Particular Peak In The History Of Human Folly No One Is 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 AliveAleksandar HemonFrom The Critically Acclaimed, Bestselling Author OfThe Russian Debutantes Handbook Comes The Uproarious And Poignant Story Of One Very Fat Man And One Very Small CountryMeet Misha Vainberg, Aka Snack Daddy, A Pound Disaster Of A Human Being, Son Of The ,th Richest Man In Russia, Proud Holder Of A Degree In Multicultural Studies From Accidental College, USA Dont 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 US Visa Are LostSalvation 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 OfThe Russian Debutantes Handbook, Gary Shteyngart Established Himself As A Central Figure In Todays Literary Worldone Of The Most Talented And Entertaining Writers Of His Generation, According ToThe New York Observer InAbsurdistan, 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, son of Boris Vainberg, is the 1,238th richest man in Russia Educated in the US at Accidental College, and a former resident of New York City, he can t re enter the US from his home in St Petersburg, because the State Department is perturbed about his dad murdering an Oklahoman businessman Honestly, those Americans and their principles In St Petersburg, Misha s dad is murdered Witnessing Papa s death and being unable to get back to the States to be with the girl he loves a barely literate stripper who he s is putting through college , Misha thesophisticate and melancholic becomes decidedly melancholic Besides, he s too Americanized to live in Russia, where there isn t even much rap music So, Misha travels to Absurdistan, an oil rich country on the Caspian that most Americans can t even find on a map, and bribes a diplomat to get him Belgian citizenship But then a war breaks out between two rival and nearly identical factions and poor rich Misha is trapped He hides out in the Hyatt, surviving on buffalo wings and Johnny Walker black label, but his money has limits everything, Misha realizes, has limits Perennially na ve and believing he s much charitable than he really is he keeps claiming to be the head of a charity for children , the junior Vainberg gets caught up in Adbsurdi politics and that s when things get truly, well, absurdi Will he ever get out of this odd little country Will he make it back to the land of liberty and the titty bar girl he loves That s the plot simple, but fleshed out by beautiful writing and boundless quirkiness and fun I must say that I loved this novel Gary Shteyngart has the literary flare of Martin Amis, the wonderful oddness of Kurt Vonnegut, and the eccentric Jewish humour of Mordecai Richler Indeed, I ve read few books as funny or well written and don t know how anyone could give it less than five stars If Shteyngart weren t a satirist, he d probably be considered one of America s most gifted writers, but satire is his game and he plays it better than possibly anyone Here s a writer I will read again.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World and War Torn Adventures in the Brave New Canada.
I was expecting a light hearted, funny read with some resonating truth lurking behind about expats in the middle east What I got was a very occasional laugh, farcical coincidences relied upon to develop the plot which never seemed to make sense It felt like the author was aiming to re create Catch22, but fundamentally failed to do so, the characters don t really stand up alone and the plot jumps around too much to convey a coherent absurd plot.
Maya J s review is spot on so I won t attempt to better that description of the plot points or the novel s blend of satire and farce, but I did want to add a couple of points to it.
That review overlooks the Jewish themes that run throughout the novel, and Jewish behaviour is one of the key targets for Shteyngart s absurd satire.
Finally there was something a bit too familiar about Misha Vainberg, who reminded me a good deal too much of the central character in Bo Fowler s The Astrological Diary of God Although Fowler s book targets religion and worship rather than Russian and US cultures, there are several parallels Ultimately though I would recommend The Astrological Diary Of God than this because it has a greater success rate when it comes to hitting the mark.
Also, it s a limp criticism I know but the ending of Absurdistan feels hurried and flat, and I think it s the last 10 pages or so that are the real cause of the um what was the point of that feeling that this book does give you at the end But up until that point, it s definitely worth reading.
Absurdistan is the type of book that leaves you wondering, What was the point of that Initially drawing me to this book was the title Absurdistan you gotta love a book that loudly declares itself absurd and it was, right from the beginning Gary Shteyngart gives you moments of complete and total hilarity and ridiculousness, and you can see that he is acutely aware of the human condition He uses this to his full advantage in describing scenes and characters, but eventually, it all dissolves into one big mess with no cohesive plot.
To begin with, the main character, Misha Vainberg, is a morbidly obese Russian whose father was the 1,238th richest man in Russia Misha is absolutely obsessed with eating, and the descriptions of Misha taking a meal are nothing less than repulsive Misha finds himself in all sorts of situations that, although they are not supposed to be funny, are made so by his sarcasm and self deprecating observations His comical meandering through life begins when, as a young adult, his father forces him to become circumcised, and it all goes very wrong After enduring this, while in the US attending college Accidental College , Misha meets the love of his life, Rouenna Rouenna is a rough edged, Bronx ghetto chick with a flair for commentary and a love for her 325 pound bobo Misha His love for Rouenna blankets his entire life with a sense of longing and sadness, as he cannot leave Russia to return to her in the US After his father dies and after a brief dalliance with his step mother , Misha attempts to leave Russia and return to the US to his large love Rouenna To facilitate this, he becomes a Belgian citizen, and it s from here his escapades begin in earnest In his attempts to flee Russia, Misha is taken to the country of Absurdistan by his American best friend, Aloysha Bob That effort is thwarted because a civil war breaks out in Absurdistan, and Aloysha Bob leaves on the next flight out, while Misha is stuck in this new country with only a Belgian Visa and some hookers to keep him company As you can see, it just keeps getting and absurd Throughout Absurdistan , Gary Shteyngart inserts political musings in the form of Halliburton and Iraq references, and his ability to take American colloquialisms and turn them into bits of farce is fantastic Throughout his trials and tribulations, we get Misha isms he refers to his hands as big squishies which open a window into his soul as a self loathing and emotional wreck of a guy All told, Misha and the other characters are very well developed in their bizarre way, and you really do feel for them As the story goes on, however, the plot sort of dissolves, and by the end, there really is no plot At the conclusion, you re left holding a bag of absurd references, going, What just happened It s worth reading if only for the amazing and wry insight Gary Shteyngart has concerning his home country Russia , his current country the US , and people in general It s an interesting combination of farce and irony, yet it sort of leaves you going, hmmmmm The book is a strange story about love, the affection for a beloved papa, for the city of New York, for a sweet and poor girl in the Bronx and for the INS Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The story is told by Misha Borisovich Vainberg, aka Snack Daddy a grossly overweight man, an in your face secular Jew with a distinguishably parrot beak and above all, the son the 1238th richest man in Russia While in the US, on a student visa, he has earned a degree in multicultural studies from Accidental College NY and his sole ambition is to immigrate to the USA and live with his hot Latina girlfriend However it was not meant to be, it was discovered his gangster father had murdered a businessman in Oklahoma, and to make matters worse his visa card was revoked.
Misha sees his salvation in the oil rich nation of Absurdistan where consular officers can be easily bought and will sell him a Belgian passport With his new identity and help from his friend Alosh Bob and his manservant Timofey, Misha hopes to circumvent previous hurdles but things do not go as planned and everything turns south.
I am surely not the only one to realize that 338 pages of satire quickly becomes a drag especially if the story doesn t grab you from the start Maintaining a steady diet of satire and mockery has its limits and is not meant for everyone, Misha s pathetic sex driven and unappealing character reaches a point of over exposure and a turn off I felt the book to be mostly ridiculous, unbelievable and above all absurd All this said, it may nevertheless appeal to a certain group with a broader sense of humour.