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Absurdistan: A Novel Paperback – April 3, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
At the center of Shteyngart's rollicking tale of the ridiculousness of life in post-Soviet Central Asia is Misha Vainberg, an obese, extremely wealthy young Russian man stuck in Absurdistan, an imaginary republic that mirrors the striving but backward real "stans" of the world. Unable to get a visa back to the U.S., where he went to college and has an ex-girlfriend from the Bronx ghetto, Misha instead must fend for his life as a civil war erupts in the tiny country, to the concern of almost no one else in the world. Arte Johnson gamely tackles multiple accents, but the brilliant free-for-all of Shteyngart's wordplay, which tumbles out with delightful ease on the page, sometimes trips him up. The stumbles disrupt the engrossing tale of the failures, frustrations and hilarity that result from Absurdistan's ardent pursuit of a Western-style modernity for which it is ill-prepared. Listeners will still be swept up in Misha's neurotic, self-centered but endearing narration and pleasantly startled by his spot-on observations of 21st century life in both Central Asia and America, but they will wish this production did better justice to Shteyngart's facility with language and the novel's crazy antics.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In his rambunctious follow-up to The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), Shteyngart explores the disillusionment surrounding the creation of sudden democracy. Despite its historical bent, Absurdistan is more a cultural and political satire than a work of geopolitical fiction. Critics agree that Shteyngart is an inventive, witty writer, whose self-defeating hero and dark humor tempered with pessimistic social realism rarely fail to entertain. Shteyngart's humor may have been more effective in smaller doses; the plot falls apart in the last third of the novel; and the sheer number of names and references can overwhelm. If Absurdistan sometimes goes too far over the top, it masks its painful global issues not far beneath its surface. <BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
So we follow Misha Vainberg, 325 lb adolescent in a man's body, as he stumbles from one crisis to the next in his frustrated attempt to reach the holy grail of both America and his lost love, Rouenna, a girl he met and fell in love with during a brief stint as a student in New York. Stuck in his native Russia after being denied a return visa to the U.S, he travels to neighboring Absurdistan to buy a forged Belgium passport, hoping to eventually sidestep the INS. Unfortunately, this short detour turns indefinite when civil war breaks out - a civil war engineered to bring USAID dollars and to turn a tidy profit for civilian contractor Halliburton.
Idealists may be offended by Mr. Shteyngart's cynicism, cynics may feel as though he's preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, his autopsy of the modern world is thorough, entertaining and disturbing. Like Heller before him, there's a feeling that he's placed his finger directly where the pulse used to be, but that, despite piling absurdity on absurdity, one feels he's only shown you the tip of the entire preposterous iceberg.
So - entertaining, yes. Funny and clever and witty - and if one only reads novels to be entertained, then I highly recommend ABSURDISTAN. But somehow I feel as though it's all rather empty in the end. Vainberg's life seems empty. It isn't so much that he's tossed about from one storm to another - everyone suffers from that to some degree, just as we all suffer from a incomplete understanding of our surroundings and an inability to act in our own best interest at times. It's that there's nothing more to the world of Vainberg than Vainberg - which could very well be the author's point. It could be that the intention was to purposely create this self-absorbed character in order to point it out for us, yet it doesn't feel that way. Rather, I feel led to believe that Vainberg is the modern day hero, that his final thrust toward personal fulfillment is the only true quest that is open to humanity anymore. A Don Quixote to whom knight-errantry is a sucker's game and chivalry is less effective than pornography.
Or maybe that isn't what the author is saying at all. Or perhaps it is, and he's right. Seems depressing to me to think so. If I have to read an absurdist, I'd just as well stick with one in the vein of Camus - one who can make the Sisyphean task in front of us seem ennobling rather than just another punch line in a long, clever joke.
Misha is obscenely obese, uncontrollably and unabashedly gluttonous, an alcoholic with a cringe-worthy lack of self-control, slightly-criminal, a student of the Marie-Antoinette School of Rich and Ignorant, and a curious, well-meaning, often-loveably oaf. In short, Misha is America.
Unforunately, Misha wasn't born in America, and he finds himself struggling to get back to New York after his wealthy gangster father kills an Oklahoma businessman and the entire Vainburg family is barred re-entry from his beloved New York, and from his actual beloved, a round-bottomed, foul-mouthed stripper with a heart-after-gold, Rouenna.
His adventures take him to Absurdistan, an ex-soviet state fractured by religious sectarian issues borne from laughable theological debate, overrun with Halliburton contractors, and absolutely lacking in that promised international currency, oil. Misha stumbles into the nascent civil war, and becoming enmeshed with the most corrupt characters by means of his honourable - if misplaced - intentions and his easily-swayed sex-drive.
Will Misha manage to detach himself from elite Absurdis pinching his every roll of lard? Will he manage to steal back his Rouenna from that god-awful, classless professor Jerry Shteynfarb? Those questions drive this contemporary reflection on the true absurdity of war, love, and INS.
My favourite book of 2012.