25 October 2007

"Absurdistan", by Gary Shteyngart (I didn't get it.)

Several months ago, I added Gary Shteyngart's novel, Absurdistan, to my bedside pile of books. Listed on the NY Times book review as one of '06's 10 best books, the Times promised me "smart, funny and incredibly moving". They suggested the creation of a 21st century antihero in the grossly overweight, self-centered Russian oligarch, Misha Vainberg.

Hoping for some needed humor and light reading wrapped in clever, modern writing, I found neither. The story plods, with little that was plausible or even all that interesting. The characters, the hapless Vainberg, his Bronx Puerto Rican girlfriend, his modelesque Absurdistani lover, are all rather dull and ephemeral. The fictional and fractious nation of Absurdsvani was neither plausible nor interesting enough to matter. I felt at times as if I was listening in on a conversation between strangers, full of inside information I was never supposed to understand and that no one really cared to let me in on. Shteyngart's imposing of an alter ego, the Russian emigre writer Jerry Shteynfarb who becomes the American lover of Vainberg's ghetto girlfriend, was annoying at best, and particularly conceited at worst.

I didn't get it. Perhaps I'm not deep enough or literate enough to understand the style and references of this acclaimed contemporary writer. I finished the book more in the hope that it would redeem itself in the end. And in the end, it didn't.

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