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Ground Up: A Novel Paperback – July 21, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
From Idov, a staff writer for New York magazine, comes a sagely wry novel loosely based on his experience running the short-lived Cafe Trotsky on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In the fictionalized version, newlyweds Mark and Nina are living off her trust fund on the Upper West Side. Mark writes the occasional book review and Nina has given up her halfhearted career in entertainment law to pursue photography. After a guest (and, coincidently, Michelin reviewer) compliments their food at a dinner party they're hosting, Nina confides that she has always dreamed of running a cafe, and soon the pair are preparing to open their own hip downtown Viennese paradise. Lacking in experience but full of enthusiasm, the couple battles with landlords, contractors, coffee distributors and temperamental pastry chefs, yet Cafe Kolschitzky bows badly: friends barely show up and a Starbucks knockoff sets up shop across the street. Meanwhile, their funding is cut, no profits have been turned and the naïve couple begins to unravel. Packed with insight and frequent hilarious asides, Idov's debut mercilessly takes down money is an illusion bohoism. (Aug.)
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“Charming, manic, and delicious. A caffeinated valentine from a New York already gone, but certainly not forgotten. I drank it right up and felt oddly comforted.” ―Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan
“Every quotable sentence in Michael Idov's brilliantly funny first novel (First novel? How is this possible?) induced in this reader awe and jealousy. Ground Up's narrator is a voice and sensibility I'd follow into any story, any neighborhood. There's talent here of the Nabokovian kind, wresting truth, love, and mordant wit from delightfully misguided dreams. I loved every word.” ―Elinor Lipman, author of Then She Found Me
“Ground Up is a rare breed--a sparkling work of light satire written by a ridiculously talented man. The book starts out funny, keeps being funny, then actually gets funnier. There is not a wasted word, not one lame passage. Mr. Idov likes to say that he is not a ‘serious' writer. Meanwhile, his brilliant novel flips the bird to our humorless, insecure literary caste system and reminds us of another author of witty urban stories: the young Anton Chekhov. But, thanks to Idov, my pleasant habit of using a coffeehouse as an office is forever tinged with guilt.” ―Anya Ulinich, author of Petropolis
“A fiercely funny yet frequently touching novel about the nightmare that the American dream can become . . . Idov . . . strikes all the right chords--both cultural and emotional. Narrator Mark Scharf and his wife, Nina Liau, decide to open a hip coffeehouse on Manhattan's Lower East Side, based on their romantic memories of one they had visited in Vienna . . . Everything that can go wrong will, in a manner both hilarious (the coffeehouse) and poignant (the marriage) . . . Though the protagonist's own book reviews are usually caustic, even he would give this debut a rave.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A sagely wry novel . . . Packed with insight and frequently hilarious asides, Idov's debut mercilessly takes down ‘money is an illusion' bohoism.” ―Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
What I disliked about this book:
-utter pretension at every turn, even in the literary references of the narrator, not just of the pretensions of the characters
-the unnecessary "gotcha" ending wherein the reader learns the entire relationship and previously described impetus of the cafe was actually a lie
-the characters: You will not find one likable character in the bunch; they are all annoying douchebags. I liked Shadow in "American Gods," Odysseus in Homer's "Odyssey"--hell, I even liked Anita Blake right up to around "Cerulean Sins" or "Incubus Dreams." I even sort of like bad guys and unsavory types in other works, but wow, just wow. Idov is successful in creating the most annoying, one-dimensional, self-righteous, entitled spoiled brat protagonists. Even the last few pages don't redeem them and don't reveal any major changes in their personalities. It was very disappointing.
The most shameful thing about this book is that it is being peddled as some great statement about the American Dream. Yet, this book in no way portrays the American Dream, because the protagonists aren't interested in surviving, thriving and growing through hard work, personal sacrifices, and truly working together to achieve financial success and ultimately achieving personal fulfillment. It's as though they move backwards beginning from a state of utter fulfillment toward misery after they try to superimpose their upper crust ways on anyone and everyone remotely associated with Cafe Kolschitsky.
This is just another hobby business run by superficial, self-righteous kids who are ashamed of their hard-working parents and disdainful--no, downright contemptuous of the levels of hard work and successes their parents achieved. They have no sense of guilt or shame about being so self-centered and unappreciative; they are hollow, superficial hipsters whose only concerns are being anti-everything except for satisfying their desires to feel superior to everyone else.
I get that this is satire, but these characters don't go through any kind of redemption. They are boring, annoying and, ultimately, wasted my time.
I read it in two sittings this weekend, and I am still thinking about it and admiring it.
The annoying-ness begins with the introduction itself where the author states that basically, the person reading should know all the intricacies of NYC. When written in English, the book constantly inserts Russian phrases (without translation mind you) obviously assuming the person reading should be of Russian dissent. The book in Russian, dismisses the reader by saying that "unfortunately, the reader, unless very familiar with New York City's lower east side and various other too-cool-for-you places, you are likely to miss the point of the novel." I think I missed the point because I didn't finish the book not because I know NYC better than he assumes. So basically unless you're from NYC and from the neighborhood these people lived in -- don't read it -- you won't get it.
Additionally, the book has a very screwed perception of Russian people living in NYC and more specifically Jewish Russian people. The pretense of the whole thing and how "cool" these people are is beyond disgusting to me and that's partially why I stopped reading so soon. I can't even force myself to finish the book even though I paid more for it than for a Steven King novel. And I am Russian. Russian Jewish.
Sorely disappointed. Don't read it.
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