Sunday, December 12, 2010

Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart

I have honestly never read anything like this before, and I don't quite know what to make of it.

Clearly it's funny. It's sacrilegious. It's political and timely. Sort of.

Misha Vainberg, son of an enterprising Russian who took advantage of the changing of the guard - from communism to capitalism - to enrich himself, is the star of this strange adventure. Misha travels to the U.S. to obtain a higher education at Accidental College and falls in love with New York City as well as with a voluptuous young woman there. His money helps but there is something else about this very fat young man that attracts women, for he is forever falling in bed with one or another. Still, his heart, for a very long time, stays with Rouenna.

He returns to Russia, his father is murdered, and he learns that his father is responsible for the death of a Texas oil man. Misha and his millions are no longer welcome to the U.S., where his love remains.

But wait! Rouenna has fallen in love, or like, with a professor in NYC by the name of Jerry Shteynfarb, who has a bio strangely similar to the author's. She is ecstatic about all JS is teaching her, while Misha grumbles and tries to find ways to get back to NYC himself.

On his way he lands in Absurdistan, and here is where it all gets especially bizarre, as if it weren't already. He is there when a civil war breaks out between the two warring factions - and he is recruited to be something of an ambassador to Israel, drawing on his Jewish roots. At which point he writes a grant proposal for an unusual museum of the Holocaust.

I am not adequately prepared to review this book. The combination of Eastern bloc absurdities, the mocking of sex and religion, the parallels between Absurdistan and certain countries currently occupied by the Americans, including the efforts of companies like Halliburton and Kellogg Brown & Root, is more than I can comprehend and make sense of.  I think what kept me reading, after a fashion, was that I actually liked the rotund, sex-crazed, oddly caring Misha.

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