Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutantes Handbook, creates a compelling reality in this tale about an illiterate America in the not-too-distant future. Lenny Abramov may just be penning the worlds last diary. Which is good, because while falling in love with a rather unpleasant woman and witnessing the fall of a great empire, Lenny has a lot to write about.lications. He has been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, and Travel + Leisure and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in New York City.
In the hilariously skewed world of Gary Shteyngart, reality and absurdity trot gleefully hand-in-hand. His debut novel, The Russian Debutantes Handbook, finds a Jewish/Soviet neer-do-well on a manic search for fortune and fame against the backdrops of New York City and the fictional European city of Prava. Absurdistan, Shteyngarts sophomore effort, ups the level of wackiness. The obese, gluttonous Misha Vainberg devours Western pop culture, lusts after a sultry Latina from the South Bronx, and stumbles into the position of Minister of Multicultural Affairs in the volatile, oil-rich nation of Absurdistan. While Shteyngarts wickedly whimsical prose and searing satire have been almost universally praised, he sees his work not as goofy flights of fancy but as a rather accurate vision of the contemporary global society. This is a reality book, Shteyngart declared to The Austinist, and the reality is that we are becoming Absurdistan with each passing day. Look, you have a government that spies on its own citizens, is basically an oil kleptocracy, the government serves the oil interest, just the way it does in Russia. Shteyngarts keen insights into world politics, particularly the current climate of America, are what elevate his novels above mere farce. Born in Leningrad, Russia, during the Cold War, but living the majority of his life in New York, the novelist has experienced life in the two contrasting nations that most influence his work. Along the way, he earned a degree in politics from Oberlin College in Ohio. Shteyngart is also a devoted traveler, and a stint in Prague sparked his first book. I spent too much time in all these different places, he explained. When I was in college, I really wanted to go back to Russia and my Mom, who was paying my bills at the time said, ‘Over my dead body, theyll eat you alive there. Look at you. Youre a little Jew, theyll kill ya. And I said ‘Uh, alright. So I went to Prague with my girlfriend at the time and that became The Russian Debutantes Handbook. The Russian Debutantes Handbook was greeted with a seemingly ceaseless string of laudatory reviews. From Vanity Fair to The New York Times to Book Magazine, Steyngart was regarded as a major new talent with a decidedly unique style. Because his debut was subject to so much acclaim, Steyngart felt that its success negatively affected the response to Absurdistan. You know its really interesting there are some people who love the first book...so much that they hate the second book because the tone is so different, he said. Of course, one would never know based on some of the most prominent responses to Absurdistan. The Washington Post celebrated the books sharp insights into the absurdity of the modern world, and Publishers Weekly cheered that Misha Vainberg is a sympathetic protagonist worthy of comparison to Americas enduring literary heroes. Not to be deterred by a minority of naysayers, Shteyngart is already hard at work on his third novel, which features the tellingly named character Jerry Shteynfarb from Absurdistan. My next book takes place partly in Albany — but set in the year 2040, when its called All-Holy Albany Rensselaer, he told Forward, and its a small religious protectorate under the command of a Korean Rev. Cho. My hero, Jerry Shteynfarb, is 65 years old, married to one of Reverend Chos daughters and trying to eke out a survival. Thats going to be the next project.Good To Know
What would Shteyngart be doing if he wasnt an acclaimed novelist? Well, he says hed like to be an urban planner. One of his first jobs was as a janitor in a nuclear reactor. Shteyngart began Absurdistan only a few days before 9/11, and briefly shelved the book after the tragic event.