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The Russian Debutante's Handbook Paperback – April 29, 2003
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Vladimir Girshkin, a likeable Russian immigrant, searches for love, a decent job, and a credible self-identity in Gary Shteyngart's debut novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook. With a doctor-father of questionable ethics and a manic, banker mother, Vladimir avoids his suburban parents and their desire that he pursue the almighty dollar as proof of success. Vladimir gets by as an immigration clerk, eking out a living in a cruddy New York City apartment while accumulating an array of quirky acquaintances, from a wealthy but disheveled old man (who claims his electric fan speaks to him) desperate for citizenship to Challa, a portly S/M queen. As a love interest, Challa is replaced by Francesca, a graduate student whose friends welcome Vladimir for the status he brings their bohemian clique, and whose parents encourage them to shack up (she lives at home) as visible proof she can maintain a steady relationship.
The Russian Debutante's Handbook is a quirky amalgam of dead-on American absurdities, albeit with somewhat stereotypical characters. While Vladimir flounders with how to improve his state, he becomes an expatriate in a trendy European city, becomes somewhat of a mobster himself, and generally has a good time. While many of the central characters remain elusively thin, Vladimir is a delight, and Shteyngart's wit is merciless: Russian women wear "wedding cakes of blond hair" and graduate students lounge in a bar "as if waiting for funding to appear." Reminiscent of Gogol and other Russian satirists, The Russian Debutante's Handbook is a genuine, sublime social commentary. --Michael Ferch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Four years after its initial publication, Shteyngart's debut novel makes its first appearance in an audio version. Strong gamely does his best to capture the antic rhythms of Shteyngart's irrepressible comic novel, but his reading lacks fluency, failing to emulate the book's dry, sardonic wit. More so than most novels, Shteyngart's book depends on the sound of language—immigrants' careful tap dance around a language not entirely their own. While it would perhaps have been too simplistic to have a Russian-sounding voice read this novel, the gamble of having a voice so clearly not Russian results in a competent but unenlightening reading that undersells its source material. Strong sounds too wholesomely American and too white bread to be protagonist Vladimir Girshkin. The result is a reading that lacks a true connection to Shteyngart's work. (Reviews, Apr. 29, 2002) (Jan.)
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.
Top customer reviews
But the book comes across as being just a little too consistently sarcastic. The author is relentless is trying to get a laugh and only hits the mark about 5 percent of the time. The plot is a little too outlandish to be real or relate to. I had to force myself to get to the end.
I am an English teacher who also reads about 5 books a week outside of my courses (only say this to admonish those naysayers who would doubt or belittle my assertions by suggesting I do not read very much). I would very willingly say that Shteyngart is my favorite author writing today. He is brilliant and his grasp of the English language (which he did not even learn until he was older!) is astonishing and, frankly, inspiring.
I disagree with those who suggest his plot and pacing need refinement. This was a wonderfully paced book with a rich, full and engrossing plot.
Kudos to Gary Shteyngart and my most sincere thanks for his books and his writing. I am all the richer for having read him and hope that he keeps writing novels that so wonderfully display his vast and seemingly endless talent.
- The humor- in the descriptions, character development and plot points
- The author's an equal opportunist; he pokes fun at different nationalities, socioeconomic classes, political parties and personalities
- The story is extremely well thought out; it takes a talented author to make you feel as if the main character has no idea where he's going or what he's doing when he knows exactly
- The chase scenes- two comical ones involving taxis
- The women- young, political and in control
What you may not like:
- At times you may ask yourself if Gary Shteyngart could have condensed the novel a bit, shaved off a few pages here or there
- If you crave rationality and stability Vladimir, the main character, may frequently irk you
- Do people really care about shoe statues that much??
Obviously, I had to grasp for negatives. Give it a try!