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The Russian Debutante's Handbook Paperback – April 29, 2003
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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
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Again, Shteyngart has a real flair for language, and there are some moments that will inspire true laughter in most readers. But at 470+ pages, this book is simply too long for its own good; Shteyngart can't sustain the hilarity, the plot wanders, the focus blurs, and at least 150 pages should have been cut. With a sloppily constructed plot riddled with holes, a host of inaccuracies that a watchful editor would have doubtless corrected (bones in chicken Kiev??), and a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion, this is an interesting, but incredibly overrated, novel. Quite simply, this is not the great masterpiece that the cover blurbs would have you believe.
But in truth that section is not what the book is "about" (nor is there a lot of detail about it)-- it's a comic/dark fantasy coming-of-age that takes on America, Russia, Central Europe-- none of it terribly deeply. It's sort of a Russian Philip Roth-- Girshkin's ruminations on women and sex take up a lot of the book and they are remarkably unerotic; sex seems to be all animal smells and bodily fulids.
The story of an American/Russian boy (Like the author, the protagonist moved to America as a child) who for complicated reasons ends up in Central Europe as an entrepreneurial mafioso is episodic, wordy, intermittently funny but ultimately oddly uninvolving.
This got ecstatic reviews and awards when it came out, and there's no doubt that Shteyngart writes well, but the comparisons to Waugh are misplaced. Waugh was concise-- Shteyngart goes on, and on, and on. This book would be a lot more fun if it were a solid 150 pages shorter.
As it is, had I not been interested in the Prague satire, I think i'd have stopped reading-- this kind of blood-and-semen boy-into-man comedy is not something I usually enjoy.
Like Philip Roth, whose Portnoy's Complaint is so well written but kind of gross, I will keep an eye on Shteyngart and read him again. If you like that kind of story, you'll like this too.
One of the beauties of this novel is how it skillfully juxtaposes two worlds. The first half of the novel explores the peculiarities of New York City through the eyes of Vladimir Gershkin, an immigrant Russian Jew working as an assimilation facilitator at an immigrant absorption clinic. The second half of the novel follows our hero to the loosely-fictitious eastern European city of Prava, bubbling with the onset of capitalism and infused with comic relief by the budding expat community. Shteyngart, himself a Russian immigrant, ideally trained by his own experience and uniquely equipped with a gift for observation and expression, exposes the hilarious quirks of each world and pokes sharply yet playfully at their shortcomings.
Much has been said about Shteyngart's gift for language. It is not an exaggeration to say that one could literally open this book to any page and find an utterly original turn of phrase, or a combination of words that beg you to stop and ponder. This is a truly fresh voice in the literary world.
Instead, Girshkin does know he needs more money than he could ever earn acclimating Russian citizens to America in order to support his new, nouveau riche lifestyle in New York City, flittering among TriBeCa's inner circles and cliques. So, he travels to Prava-the glittering and grimy capital of Eastern Europe in the early `90s-to cavort with the Russian mafiaso and pull off the pyramid scheme to end all pyramid schemes. There, he works under the shadow of communism, literally; an immense statue of Stalin's foot occupies much of Prava's main square, serving as a grim reminder of the Soviet way of life and, more specifically, 1969.
Once in Prava, Girshkin quickly establishes himself as the Hemmingway of the 30,000-plus strong expatriate community, where everyone is a Fitzgerald and parties like they'll never return home.
This novel is infused with Gary Shteyngart's perception of Americans and their culture and his reflections on what it is like to be without a country. Through Shteyngart's witty phrases and dialogue, he proves he knows his adopted country better than most native-born Americans; phrases like "And Vladimir, young and tiny but already a child of America, said, `Aren't there pills she can take?'" make the reader cringe with a chagrined acceptance.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
i read absurdistan first then super sad love story, i loved those books, this book is entertaining but its unable to keep my attention, i feel its a weak plotPublished 6 months ago by DrBlackTurtle
Something about Vladimir Girshkin makes you want to know what's going to happen next. Through the wild emerging adulthood of this colorful figure, Shteyngart paints a fascinating... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Jennifer Nathan
The Russian Debutante's Handbook is not at all a handbook for foreign socialites but rather a gently mocking account of young Vladimir Girshkin's rise and fall. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Jackie
Not a fan of other books by the same author, I expected to struggle through this book club choice. I was happy to find that I couldn't put it down. Read morePublished 16 months ago by crish
Gary Shteyngart has an absolutely dead-on comic writing style and the Russian Debutante's Handbook is a seriously fun read. Read morePublished 21 months ago by rislo29