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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gary Shteyngart is a comic genius
Sometimes the 2nd novel is a let-down. ABSURDISTAN follows a debut, THE RUSSIAN DEBUTANTE'S HANDBOOK that is frankly, hard to top. Shteyngart has done it. ABSURDISTAN is the story of Misha Vainberg aka "Snack Daddy." The son of a Jewish Russian Gangster, "Snack" got an education at a ritzy private American college called Accidental, kind of a cross between Antioch and...
Published on February 14, 2006 by Richard Cumming

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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-deprcating humor at its best.
The book's greatest merit is the humor, deprecating and revealing. It goes beyond mere entertainment because it satirizes both foreign attitudes and the American mindset. In the most hilarious manner it reveals how far removed the American reality is from the rest of the world and how enticing some of the positive attributes of our culture can be. One can also enjoy the...
Published on November 13, 2006 by M. Dotis


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whimsy farce, April 12, 2007
By 
WLut (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
"Absurdistan" is absurd in many ways - it's an absurdly funny satire of an absurd, but realistic world. There's absurd narrative, an absurd protagonist, absurd characters, absurd dialogue --- all of that works but then there is the absurd plot and absurd ending that don't work very well at all. Greatness would have been achieved with a little more attention played to the storyline. Occasionally there are setups in the plot such as when Misha Vainberg, the protagonist, becomes the Minister of Multi-Cultural Affairs in Absurdistan, and you think, at last, he's been put in a position to do something that advances the story. But he doesn't really. He just stumbles from scene to scene, never moving from passive to active. But it's still a delight to read, because it's so hilarious.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite books of the year!, December 24, 2006
By 
Jim White "napaman" (Napa Valley, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Hardcover)
Let's say, for an experiment, you take your favorite Eveyln Waugh novel (perhaps Scoops?), your favorite Tom Robbins books (Cowgirls? Jitterbug Perfume?) and add a copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's classic, Everything is Illuminated; combine in a Cuisinart, pulse on High for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

THAT is what this book resembles, or certainly feels like. It has comedy, absurdity, political observation and, oh yes, the social grace to offend someone somewhere. A bit like Borat, but with class.

This is actually a brilliant literary achievement. Better yet, it is FUN to read.

I doubt that any of the reviewers on this page of who miserly gave Absurdistan a star, or two, have any sense of humor. This is a five-star classic, in the league of Catch 22 for wit and parody.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worldly and Hilarious (by chloe wyma), September 6, 2006
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Hardcover)
In Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart captures humanity--or more specifically the struggle for humanity, for human connection to the dead and the living, with sometimes unrelenting grit and honesty. With his sophisticated understanding of "cultural relativism," and of the omnipotent authority of the American dollar, the author guides the reader through post-perestroika Soviet Union his with both cynicism and pathos.

As Misha "Snackdaddy" Vainberg, the novel's fleshly protagonist, with his disfigured purple khui and infinite reserves of material wealth, eats, raps, and screws his way throughout the former USSR, he reveals a profound sense of longing and alienation. Mischa's futile attempts establish human connection in a realm void of humanity render him a kind of obese postmodern Sisyphus. More than a materialist, he is a self declared sophisticate and melancholic--a hopeless believer in the redemptive power of Western culture. Mischa supplements his grossly extravagant lifestyle with an idealistic belief in "multiculturalism," Americanization, and unmitigated self-hatred. I was frightened and yet somehow gladdened to find similarities between Mischa Vainberg, myself, and perhaps every sentient being living on this earth. Whether we like it or not, we all relate to his base desires for food, love, and acceptance, to his naive belief in goodness--that "one person can change the world." Encouraged by the motto of his alma mater, Accidental College, and by his own adorable humanity, Mischa tries in vain to adopt the starving orphaned children of ghettos of New York, St. Petersburg, and Absurdistan. In the end, his beneficiaries, including his beloved Rouenna, are never as appreciative as expected, and Mischa's attempts at human connection are severed by worldly corruption and bad moblenick service.

In Absurdistan, globalization's war-torn Petrol wasteland, Shteyngart, much like absurdist playwright Edward Albee, invents a world that is simultaneously ludicrous and veristic. Filled with references from Novokov to Zagat, this wickedly funny and painfully honest portrayal of a corrupt sturgeon-filled world and the characters who are forced inhabit it is consistently hilarious on every page.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars it's one of those "you'll either love it or hate it" books. I loved it., June 22, 2007
By 
David J. Gannon (San Antonio, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
You don't have to read many reviews to understand that this is a book you'll either love or hate--and you'll know pretty quickly which it is.

One thing is indisputable--Shteyngart is a terrific writer. I liked his first effort--The Russian Debutantes Handbook--quite a lot though it suffered from many of the shortcomings common to a first novel. In Absurdistan he has fully developed his writing skills and deftly sharpened his sense of the farcical.

I will freely admit that Shteyngart's work won't ever be universally admired. His characters are in fact elaborate caricatures. Fully fleshed out and engaging caricatures to be sure, but caricatures nonetheless. His settings are often brilliant in their detail--almost to a fault. The story is farcical in the extreme--or is it? There are a lot of dynamics in this book. Shteyngart weaves an intricate web of plot that is at once fantastical and yet not that unbelievable.

The parts of the books et in Russia and New York are by far the strongest parts of the book. The Absurdisatnd sections are vastly entertaining but waver into such farcical aspects that they in fact detract from the whole. That aside , the settings are vivid and brilliantly painted--strokes of a master watercolorist with words.

The humor is biting and frequent. In this effort Shteyngart is an equal opportunity satirist. Both the Us and Russia are besieged by his sharp wit, his perfect sense of timing, his deep understanding of their currently schizophrenic psyches.

I can well understand the feelings of those who just could not connect with this book. If you can connect with it, you are in for a wild and joyous ride!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but not for everyone..., June 18, 2007
This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
I had no expectations before reading "Absurdistan" since I had not yet read Gary Shtyngart's prior work, however I found the book to be absolutely hysterical (laugh-out-loud kind of funny) and positively brilliant! Despite wanting to loathe the main character Misha's unapologetically disgusting behavior and attitudes, you can't help but empathize with him, in his unlikely (and yes "absurd") tale. Many of the other reviews on this site have given away far too much information about the book, but I prefer to let this particular story be read for itself, since part of its appeal is defintely its shock value.

However, I will add that this book is not for everyone. As much as I loved it and found in it an array of emotions, I would suggest reading the first few pages and/or opening the book at random and reading a page or two prior to purchasing the book, since the style of writing and topics discussed therein will certainly not appeal to all readers (and may even perhaps be offensive to some). If you're looking for something "different," entertaining, extremely well written and funny, this book is highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Man versus Machine, June 14, 2007
By 
Hostrauser (San Diego, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
Absurdistan is funny and sad in equal amounts for exactly the same reason.

The story is fantasy, so utterly preposterous it could never happen, and yet it remains so grounded in reality and garnished with such witty observations about international politics that it can be accepted as wholly credible. Misha Vainberg doesn't exist, the country of Absurdsvanď (Absurdistan) doesn't exist, and Vainberg's Keystone Kops adventures with American defense contractors and international politics never happened. That makes the story funny. However, people exactly like Misha Vainberg do exist, countries exactly like Absurdsvanď do exist, and (having first-hand experience with the first and reasonable knowledge of the second) I can assure you that American defense contracting and international politics operate pretty much exactly as they are portrayed in the novel. That is what makes the story sad.

Shteyngart's writing style is bold and brash; his pen equally humorous and caustic. He writes with biting sarcasm, grim observational skill and a rude crassness that will make even the most jaded and worldly reader chuckle at his graphic narration. He's at his best when lampooning/satirizing the very very serious: he makes the wry obersvation that the "American Express" logo is widely more respected and feared than the U.N. logo, and his concepts for a Holocaust museum are both horrifying and hilarious. There were several spots in the novel that reminded me of Vonnegut, both for their razor-sharp observations of the world at large and their despairing attitude towards the future of humanity. Shteyngart also weaves into the novel interesting threads dealing with father-son relationships, religious/cultural adaptation and rationalization, and (in true Vonnegut fashion) even writes a parody of himself into the novel.

The protagonist, the morbidly obese, pityingly naďve and fairly wealthy Misha Vainberg (son of the 1,238th-richest man in all of Russia!), seems equal parts Winston Smith and Don Quixote: he's desperate to "do something important" with both his life and his money and yet is also a powerless pawn swept up in the cultural and international events that surround him. He falls in love too easily (both with women and with ideas) and cares too much when no one around him cares at all. Far from being an uplifting, "Schindler's List" sort of story, Absurdistan shows just how powerless the invidual is (even a wealthy individual) when powerful companies and powerful countries hatch hare-brained schemes in the utterly absurd arena of international politics.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars GROSS-ly Overrated, May 5, 2008
By 
M. Mastrogiacomo (Philadelphia, Pa.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
This book fails on at least two major levels.

First, it tries for an over-the-top, in-your-face, cutting-edge quality. This is why Absurdistan is on many Ten-Best lists. However, the author is just not talented enough to pull it off - a John Irving wannabe.

Second, depiction of the grotesque is risky business. As odd as it sounds, it must be done with finesse or it becomes virtually unreadable (which is the case here). For a positive example, check out Salinger.

The only true appeal I could discern was the setting. Eastern Europe in the 21st century is a very interesting part of the world and it ALMOST makes this novel worth reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Draws blood while making you howl with laughter., December 16, 2009
This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
I spent 1993 in Russia. In retrospect, I can see it hurtling toward the state of affairs so brilliantly, gruesomely, and hilariously described by Gary Shteyngart, who, I don't think it's too strong to say, is a weird sort of genius.

Absurdistan is a rambling, hilarious epic chronicling the meandering life of Misha Vainberg, son of one of Russia's new oligarchs, from his squalid beginnings in Leningrad (before Beloved Papa made his millions) through his botched circumcision at the hands of the Lubavitcher Hasidim, his American education at an elite college in the Midwest, and his return to Russia, to what is all too likely to be the end of the road in Davidovo, a medieval village of Mountain Jews somewhere in the Caucasus--a place all too reminiscent of the shtetl where the Vainbergs themselves must've sprung from. 300-lb Misha, who slogs and squelches from disaster to disaster--alternately those of his own making and those of other people's making--is one of the most compelling characters in recent literature. The book is worth reading just to meet him.

It's also a blistering satire on how American commercialism infects the rest of the world, and how that peculiarly American rapacity affects our foreign policy. It's so biting it draws blood, so scathing that it makes you suck in your breath sharply, and so funny that you can't help but laugh out loud. Don't read it in an airport unless you want people to look at you like you're insane.

Absurdistan all too clearly illustrates that the best humor really isn't all that funny, at its base. Laughing is all too often the only appropriate response to the bloody, vicious, and irredeemably screwed up world that we inhabit.

Absurdistan isn't for the faint of heart, the easily offended, or the "my country right or wrong" flagwavers. Nor is it really for anyone who maintains even a shard of optimism about our species. It is, however, a work of genius, and I don't throw that label around gratuitously. Since Joseph Heller died, I haven't found anyone I deem worthy of taking his place. Gary Shteyngart, however, might just be the guy.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, August 27, 2007
This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
I don't always read a book that has received great acclaim, but after reading the New York Times "Best Books of 2006" publication, I thought I would take a chance.

Misha Vainberg, the protagonist, is an obese Russian (affectionately known as "Snack Daddy" by his friends) with a fascination for the United States. A graduate from Accidental College, he is unable to return to the US because his father killed an Oklahoman businessman.

Shteyngart has a nice style and employs biting humor throughout the book, which I enjoyed. However, at times he did overdo it with rather graphic sex scenes and the character's constant reference to his 'khui'(if you read the book, you will know what he is talking about). This did get old, and in my opinion took away from the overall strength of the novel.

Absurdistan's efforts to draw the attention of the United States through a staged civil war will make the reader think of Iraq, but I enjoyed more reading about Vainberg's attempts to get into the US. One of my favorite scenes is his encounter with the Absurdistani customs agents: When you are in Absurdistan, my mother will be your mother, my wife your sister, and you will always find water in my well to drink." This sets the tone for the many interesting encounters that Misha Vainberg experiences during his time in Absurdistan.

Unlike some of the other viewers, I cannot think of another character in fiction that is comparable to Misha Vainberg, but this book is an enjoyable read. If you like biting satire and a good narrative, I recommend "Absurdistan."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some very funny lines but ..., August 9, 2007
By 
A reader (Highland Park, NJ) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Absurdistan: A Novel (Paperback)
Although there are a lot of jacket quotes saying what a wonderful book this is, I now suspect that there were plenty of unenthusiastic reviews - at least there should have been. I read about half of the book, smiled a few times, laughed out loud once or twice, but never got really interested. I would have continued if I had had nothing else to read. Fortunately I had other books waiting.
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Absurdistan: A Novel
Absurdistan: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart (Paperback - April 3, 2007)
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