Friday, July 22, 2011

Have You Read...Gary Shteyngart

Last year, The New Yorker named Gary Shteyngart one of their “20 Under 40” writers to watch – and for good reason. He has published some exceptionally funny and compelling work in his relatively-young life. Shteyngart spent his first seven years in St. Petersburg before immigrating with his parents to the United States and settling in New York. Straddling both cultures, his literary voice is a pleasing blend of Russian severity and American frivolity - which he deftly uses to skewer the prevailing nonsense of our times.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook

In his debut novel, Gary Shteyngart introduces the first in a series of protagonists that share more than a passing resemblance to the author. The man in this instance is Vladimir Girshkin, a 25 year-old son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, living in New York City and failing to meet his parent’s high expectations. While working in a low-paying job helping recent immigrants, Vladimir meets Francesca, a girl from a wealthy family, and becomes involved in some shady activities to maintain the funds for an upper-crust lifestyle - dealings that eventually lead him to a troubled trip to Prava, “the Eastern European Paris of the Nineties.”

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Misha “Snack Daddy” Vainberg is a food coveting, hip-hop loving, would-be American from a prominent Russian family. Due to some fallout from his father’s nefarious business practices, Misha is unable to maintain his U.S. visa or his other-side-of-the-tracks Bronx girlfriend. Desperate to leave St. Petersburg, Misha sets out to buy a Belgian passport in the oil-soaked Caspian nation Absurdistan – but soon finds himself embroiled in a nascent ethnic civil war.

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Super Sad True Love Story

Set in a dystopian, not-too-distant future New York, America’s character flaws have grown outsized and the nation is crumbling underneath them. The “Bipartisan” government has devolved into a despotic police state and is losing a war of choice with Venezuela. The country is well-passed default on its debt and the Chinese creditors are ready to repossess. Most of the citizenry is resigned to focus on their äppäräti (devices that are a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from iPhones) and ogle each other’s credit scores. In this world, we find the unlikely coupling of homely, middle-aged Lenny and a brooding young beauty named Eunice. Their affair is an implausibility set against the stark backdrop of an America in rapid decline.

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