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Absurdistan: A Novel Hardcover – May 2, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Misha Vainberg, the rich, arrogant and very funny hero of Shteyngart's follow-up to The Russian Debutante's Handbook, compares himself early on to Prince Myshkin from Dostoyevski's The Idiot: "Like the prince, I am something of a holy fool... an innocent surrounded by schemers." Readers will more likely note his striking resemblance to John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius Reilly. A "sophisticate and a melancholic," Misha is an obese 30-year-old Russian heir to a post-Soviet fortune. After living in the Midwest and New York City for 12 years, he considers himself "an American impounded in a Russian body." But his father in St. Petersburg has killed an Oklahoma businessman and then turned up dead himself, and Misha, trying to leave Petersburg after the funeral, is denied a visa to the United States. The novel is written as his appeal, "a love letter and also a plea," to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow him to return to the States, which lovingly and hilariously follows Misha's attempt to secure a bogus Belgian passport in the tiny post-Soviet country of Absurdistan. Along the way, Shteyngart's graphic, slapstick satire portrays the American dream as experienced by hungry newborn democracies, and covers everything from crony capitalism to multiculturalism. It's also a love story. Misha is in love with New York City and with Rouenna Sales, his "giant multicultural swallow" from the South Bronx, despite the pain they have caused him: a botched bris performed on Misha at age 18 by New York City's Hasid-run Mitzvah Mobile, and Rouenna running off with his stateside rival (and Shteyngart's doppelganger), Jerry Shteynfarb (author of "The Russian Arriviste's Hand Job") while Misha is stuck in Russia. The ruling class of Absurdistan is in love with the corrupt American company Halliburton, which is helping the rulers in a civil war in order to defraud the U.S. government. Halliburton, in turn, is in love with Absurdistan for the money it plans to make rebuilding Absurdistan's "inferstructure" and for the plentiful hookers who spend their nights and days by hotel pools looking for "Golly Burton" employees to service. And everyone is in love with America—or at least its money. Everything in Shteyngart's frustrated world—characters, countries, landscapes—strives for U.S.-style culture and prosperity, a quest that gives shape to the melancholy and hysteria of Shteyngart's Russia. Extending allegorical tentacles back to the Cold War and forward to the War on Terror, Shteyngart piles on plots, characters and flashbacks without losing any of the novel's madcap momentum, and the novel builds to a frantic pitch before coming to a breathless halt on the day before 9/11. The result is a sendup of American values abroad and a complex, sympathetic protagonist worthy of comparison to America's enduring literary heroes. (On sale May 2)
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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061962
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061969
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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 Oberlin. After his father assassinates a competitor, a guy from Oklahoma, "Snack Daddy" is unable to obtain a visa to return from Russia to his beloved New York. His girlfriend is back in New York and Misha finds out that she is being seduced by one of his former classmates, a Professor Shteynfarb. Misha is determined to find a way back to America. He heads to Absurdistan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic on the Caspian. From his perch in the penthouse of the Hyatt Snack Daddy watches the country dissolve into civil war. All he wants is a Belgian passport and his next meal. ABSURDISTAN is a comic farce and a tour de force. I laughed my way through it.
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Format: Hardcover
Absurdistan is a satire that skewers virtually every topic it touches; it manages to cover plenty of ground. As the reader, it's strangely difficult to get your intellectual bearings, but you never become completely unmoored - it's an interesting sensation, something similar to how I feel reading Vonnegut and quite an accomplishment for an author.

The book follows the misguided adventures of an overweight, Russian secular Jew who studied at a small liberal arts college in the United States. In doing so, Shteyngart manages to mock being overweight, Russian, Jewish, non-Jewish, secular, American and liberal arts educations circa 1990 (great fun if you went to one of those schools around that time). In other words, Shteyngart shows all of us to be worthy of some mockery. At the same time, however, the inherent good points of everything Shteyngart mocks show through quite clearly.

Our anti-hero takes us through St. Petersburg, New York (through flashbacks and imagination) and a fictitous country that was a former republic of the USSR. The result is really rather good and often very funny.

If you like "Confederacy of Dunces," anything by Vonnegut, or generally consider yourself to be a hopeful cynic - you're going to like this book. Even as Absurdistan pokes fun at everything in its path, it also brings out the redeming qualities of each of its targets.
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Format: Hardcover
The dark humor comes pouring out figuratively and literally in Gary Shteyngart's new novel skewering post-Soviet culture, American imperialism and the mixed blessings of capitalism in one fell swoop. The story's focal point is the grossly overweight Peter Pan-prototype Misha Vainberg, the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, who is desperate to return to the U.S. where he went to college, spent several years of penthouse life in New York City, fell for a trash-talking Bronx girl named Rouenna and engorged himself on the full spectrum of American cuisine. The comic and slightly surreal premise lends insight into what sudden exposure to democracy can do to a person's spirit and reason for living. Stuck in St. Petersburg (or as he likes to call it, St. Leninsburg), Misha has one dream - to attain a visa from the US consulate, but he fails to make headway with the governmental bureaucracy. His last remaining hope is going to Absurdistan, a former Soviet republic rich in oil, where he can get his hands on a Belgian passport that will allow him to get to the states.

Political instability, however, overtakes the tiny country and a most absurd civil war breaks out in a way that reminds me of Peter Sellers' first film about the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, "The Mouse That Roared". Mired in corruption where billions in petro-dollars are at stake, Misha is appointed the minister of multicultural affairs. Whether fighting for his life or discovering new love with the daughter of a local warlord, he finds he cannot escape his Russian past with ease. Shteyngart's unique gift is painting a panorama rich in cultural observations and personal chaos. The author also does not shy away from politically incorrect stereotypes because he shows them through Misha's jaundiced perspective of entitlement.
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Format: Hardcover
I approached Gary Shteyngart's second novel, "Absurdistan" with a mixture of anticipation and fear. I very much enjoyed Shteyngart's first novel, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook", and thought it held the promise of even better books to come. But second novels pose a challenge for both the author and the reader. The author must face the dreaded "sophomore slump" and live up to the heightened expectations for his next piece of work. The reader faces a similar challenge. It is one thing to pick up a book and be pleasantly surprised. It is quite another to pick up a book expecting it to be excellent. Shteyngart has passed this test with ease. "Absurdistan" is a page turning farce that kept me laughing throughout.

Absurdistan traces the life, loves and misadventures of one Misha Vainberg. Misha is the 1,238th-richest man in Russia. He is a man of immense proportions (Shteyngart has a number of amusing ways to describe how various parts of his body quiver) and appetites. When he eats his intake of food is enormous and the process of mass ingestion is treated by Misha with something akin to an orgiastic spiritual exercise.

Misha was raised in Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg. His father was a minor-league Jewish dissident whose chief claim to fame was relieving himself on the dog of an officious Soviet bureaucrat. After the fall of the USSR, Papa rose to wealth and fame by becoming a successful criminal in the "new Russia". Educated in the U.S. at the prestigious liberal-arts Accidental College where he is known as "snack daddy" to his friends, Misha finds his way to New York where he falls in love with Rouenna, a sultry young lady from the South Bronx (think J-Lo but with a bigger trunk). Life falls apart for Misha after his father kills an American competitor.
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