by Gary Shteyngart
Who wants to read about an arrogant, obese thirty-something living off the largesse of his parents while he smugly pats himself on the back for being a Very Special Snowflake? Well, put that copy of A Confederacy of Dunces away – today we’re talking about Absurdistan.
Heir to the fortune of the 1238th richest man in Russia, Misha Vainberg is in love with all things America. After attending Accidental College in the Midwest and living in New York City for many years, Misha loves American food (it is not for nothing that the fat man has earned the nickname “Snack Daddy”), American multiculturalism and – of course – American women. However, the sins of the father pass on to the son, and due to the murder of an Oklahoman businessman at the hands of Misha’s gangster dad, he’s no longer allowed to live in the United States. Things only get worse after Misha’s father is killed by rivals. Misha can’t stay in St. Petersburg because his father’s killers might come after him next; he can’t return to America because they’ve denied him a visa. Out of options, Misha flees to Absurdsvanϊ, where he’s heard that he can get a falsified Belgian passport. Unfortunately, Misha has fled straight into a civil war zone, and as Absurdsvanϊ tears itself to pieces he is caught in the middle.
When Absurdistan was first published, it received rave reviews from the New York Times, eventually ending up on their “Top Ten Books of 2006” list. To be honest, I have no idea what the NYT saw in this. I suppose the satirical send-up of globalization and America’s relationship with the rest of the world had its funny moments. Everyone in Absurdsvanϊ loves American money, so by extension they love America. As American corporations like Halliburton manipulate the country to protect their oil interests, the majority of the impoverished people remain completely oblivious. But this satire is utterly bogged down and overwhelmed by the main character, Misha. He’s gross and puerile, constantly informing the reader of his sagging tits and sweaty back fat when he isn’t obsessing over his khui (his nickname for his penis, which was grossly disfigured in a mismanaged bris) and stuffing his face with handfuls of caviar and chicken wings. He is always the last one to catch on to the schemes of the people around him and relies on his father’s fortune to bail him out of all his woes. He’s utterly unlikable, and so useless to the world that it’s really, really difficult to remain at his side for the entire narration of his life.
1.5 out of 5 stars
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