BN.com Gift Guide

Absurdistan [NOOK Book]

Overview

Absurdistan is not just a hilarious novel, but a record of a particular peak in the history of human folly. No one is more capable of dealing with the transition from the hell of socialism to the hell of capitalism in Eastern Europe than Shteyngart, the great-great grandson of one Nikolai Gogol and the funniest foreigner alive.”
–Aleksandar Hemon

From the critically ...
See more details below
Absurdistan

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.99
BN.com price

Overview

Absurdistan is not just a hilarious novel, but a record of a particular peak in the history of human folly. No one is more capable of dealing with the transition from the hell of socialism to the hell of capitalism in Eastern Europe than Shteyngart, the great-great grandson of one Nikolai Gogol and the funniest foreigner alive.”
–Aleksandar Hemon

From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook comes the uproarious and poignant story of one very fat man and one very small country
Meet Misha Vainberg, aka Snack Daddy, a 325-pound disaster of a human being, son of the 1,238th-richest man in Russia, proud holder of a degree in multicultural studies from Accidental College, USA (don’t even ask), and patriot of no country save the great City of New York. Poor Misha just wants to live in the South Bronx with his hot Latina girlfriend, but after his gangster father murders an Oklahoma businessman in Russia, all hopes of a U.S. visa are lost.
Salvation lies in the tiny, oil-rich nation of Absurdistan, where a crooked consular officer will sell Misha a Belgian passport. But after a civil war breaks out between two competing ethnic groups and a local warlord installs hapless Misha as minister of multicultural affairs, our hero soon finds himself covered in oil, fighting for his life, falling in love, and trying to figure out if a normal life is still possible in the twenty-first century.
With the enormous success of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Gary Shteyngart established himself as a central figure in today’s literary world—“one of the most talented and entertaining writers of his generation,” according to The New York Observer. In Absurdistan, he delivers an even funnier and wiser literary performance. Misha Vainberg is a hero for the new century, a glimmer of humanity in a world of dashed hopes.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Walter Kirn
Compared with most young novelists his age, who tend toward cutesy involution, Shteyngart is a giant mounted on horseback. He ranges more widely, sees more sweepingly and gets where he's going with far more aplomb. His Absurdistan, to Americans, may seem amusingly far away at first, but the longer one spends there, hunkered down with Misha in a hotel room high above the rocket fire, the closer and more recognizable it gets. Absurdsvanï is far, but Absurdistan is near.
— The New York Times
Josip Novakovich
The novel is grounded in a noble literary lineage. You can hear echoes of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, with its glorification of size and appetites. Misha is a man of leisure on the order of Goncharov's Oblomov, who spends most of his time in bed. Although it's not written with as much compassion as A Confederacy of Dunces (justifiably so -- do we need to sympathize with the oligarchy?), Absurdi stan exhibits a similar sense of humor mixed with sharp insights into the absurdity of the modern world.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 13, 2006). (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Set in Russia in the summer of 2001, this riotously original novel stars one Misha Vainburg, the dissipated, American-educated, 325-pound son of Boris Vainburg, a Russian Jewish dissident-turned-oligarch after the fall of the Soviet Union and the "1,238th richest man in Russia." After spending some time in St. Petersburg, Misha longs to return to America to join Rouenna, his streetwise New York girlfriend. Barred from getting a visa because his father killed an American businessman, Misha journeys to the Caspian republic of Absurdistan, from which he hopes to emigrate after getting Belgian citizenship. Upon his arrival, he faces a phony civil war, concocted to gain American economic support. With the borders closed, and stuck in the midst of a war that's increasingly real, Misha finds himself growing up in unexpected ways. Richly satiric and filled with trenchant one-liners, this tale often reads like a Russian version of A Confederacy of Dunces (with a bit of The Idiot and The Mouse That Roared thrown in). Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Disappointing follow-up to The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2001) sends another Soviet-born Jewish protagonist to another global hot spot. This time, Shteyngart's not-so-heroic hero is 30-year-old, 325-pound Misha Vainberg, son of a St. Petersburg gangster who's just been offed on the Palace Bridge. Misha would like to go back to the U.S., where he spent the 1990s happily attending college and sampling New York's multicultural delights. But now, in 2001, he can't get an American visa-there's that small matter of the Oklahoma businessman whom beloved papa iced. His only way out is a trip to the Republic of Absurdistan, where the millions he negotiated as a settlement with Papa's killer (another mobster) can buy him a Belgian passport and a ticket back to Western materialism. So Misha heads for Absurdistan, a chaotic Caucasian region populated by two warring ethnic groups plus plenty of visiting employees of Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root: It seems there's oil somewhere in them thar hills. This sticky situation degenerates into civil war as nasty as it is ludicrous. (The sardonic chapter entitled "Why the Sevo and Svani Don't Get Along" says it all about the stupidity of ancient grudges.) Shteyngart's eye for the comic horrors of modern life remains acute: Prostitutes at the Absurdistan Hyatt offer discounts for "Golly Burton," and the local alleged reformers are appalled by the death of a protestor at the G8 summit "just as our struggle for democracy was gaining some market share in the global media." Ugly ethnic conflict, however, makes a dicier foundation for humor than the wide-open Eastern Europe of Shteyngart's first novel (referred to here as The Russian Arriviste'sHand Job). He now seems to be aiming for a tougher statement here with the brutal murder of a local democrat, but his characters are too grotesque to prompt much sympathy. And yet again, an author relies on the fact that 9/11 is approaching to pump up his climax's suspense; at least Shteyngart spares us an actual rehash. Leaves a very sour aftertaste-but that's probably the point.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588365309
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/2/2006
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 278,352
  • File size: 579 KB

Meet the Author

Gary Shteyngart
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. His debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book, a best book of the year by The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and one of the best debuts of the year by The Guardian. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, GQ, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in New York.

Biography

In the hilariously skewed world of Gary Shteyngart, reality and absurdity trot gleefully hand-in-hand. His debut novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, finds a Jewish/Soviet ne'er-do-well on a manic search for fortune and fame against the backdrops of New York City and the fictional European city of Prava. Absurdistan, Shteyngart's sophomore effort, ups the level of wackiness. The obese, gluttonous Misha Vainberg devours Western pop culture, lusts after a sultry Latina from the South Bronx, and stumbles into the position of Minister of Multicultural Affairs in the volatile, oil-rich nation of Absurdistan. While Shteyngart's wickedly whimsical prose and searing satire have been almost universally praised, he sees his work not as goofy flights of fancy but as a rather accurate vision of the contemporary global society.

"This is a reality book," Shteyngart declared to The Austinist, "and the reality is that we are becoming Absurdistan with each passing day. Look, you have a government that spies on its own citizens, is basically an oil kleptocracy, the government serves the oil interest, just the way it does in Russia."

Shteyngart's keen insights into world politics, particularly the current climate of America, are what elevate his novels above mere farce. Born in Leningrad, Russia, during the Cold War, but living the majority of his life in New York, the novelist has experienced life in the two contrasting nations that most influence his work. Along the way, he earned a degree in politics from Oberlin College in Ohio. Shteyngart is also a devoted traveler, and a stint in Prague sparked his first book. "I spent too much time in all these different places," he explained. "[W]hen I was in college, I really wanted to go back to Russia and my Mom, who was paying my bills at the time said, ‘Over my dead body, they'll eat you alive there. Look at you. You're a little Jew, they'll kill ya.' And I said ‘Uh, alright.' So I went to Prague with my girlfriend at the time and that became The Russian Debutante's [Handbook]."

The Russian Debutante's Handbook was greeted with a seemingly ceaseless string of laudatory reviews. From Vanity Fair to The New York Times to Book Magazine, Steyngart was regarded as a major new talent with a decidedly unique style. Because his debut was subject to so much acclaim, Steyngart felt that its success negatively affected the response to Absurdistan. "You know it's really interesting there are some people who love the first book...so much that they hate the second book because the tone is so different," he said. Of course, one would never know based on some of the most prominent responses to Absurdistan. The Washington Post celebrated the book's "sharp insights into the absurdity of the modern world," and Publisher's Weekly cheered that Misha Vainberg is a "sympathetic protagonist worthy of comparison to America's enduring literary heroes.'

Not to be deterred by a minority of naysayers, Shteyngart is already hard at work on his third novel, which features the tellingly named character Jerry Shteynfarb from Absurdistan. "[M]y next book [takes place] partly in Albany -- but set in the year 2040, when it's called All-Holy Albany Rensselaer," he told Forward, "and it's a small religious protectorate under the command of a Korean Rev. Cho. My hero, Jerry Shteynfarb, is 65 years old, married to one of Reverend Cho's daughters and trying to eke out a survival. That's going to be the next project."

Good To Know

What would Shteyngart be doing if he wasn't an acclaimed novelist? Well, he says he'd like to be an urban planner. One of his first jobs was as a janitor in a nuclear reactor.

Shteyngart began Absurdistan only a few days before 9/11, and briefly shelved the book after the tragic event.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      1972
    2. Place of Birth:
      Leningrad, USSR
    1. Education:
      B.A., Oberlin College, 1995

Read an Excerpt

1

The Night in Question

June 15, 2001

I am Misha Borisovich Vainberg, age thirty, a grossly overweight man with small, deeply set blue eyes, a pretty Jewish beak that brings to mind the most distinguished breed of parrot, and lips so delicate you would want to wipe them with the naked back of your hand.

For many of my last years, I have lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, neither by choice nor by desire. The City of the Czars, the Venice of the North, Russia’s cultural capital . . . forget all that. By the year 2001, our St. Leninsburg has taken on the appearance of a phantasmagoric third-world city, our neoclassical buildings sinking into the crap-choked canals, bizarre peasant huts fashioned out of corrugated metal and plywood colonizing the broad avenues with their capitalist iconography (cigarette ads featuring an American football player catching a hamburger with a baseball mitt), and what is worst of all, our intelligent, depressive citizenry has been replaced by a new race of mutants dressed in studied imitation of the West, young women in tight Lycra, their scooped-up little breasts pointing at once to New York and Shanghai, with men in fake black Calvin Klein jeans hanging limply around their caved-in asses.

The good news is that when you’re an incorrigible fatso like me—325 pounds at last count—and the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, all of St. Leninsburg rushes out to service you: the drawbridges lower themselves as you advance, and the pretty palaces line up alongside the canal banks, thrusting their busty friezes in your face. You are blessed with the rarest treasure to be found in this mineral-rich land. You are blessed with respect.

On the night of June 15 in the catastrophic year 2001, I was getting plenty of respect from my friends at a restaurant called the Home of the Russian Fisherman on Krestovskiy Island, one of the verdant islands caught in the delta of the Neva River. Krestovskiy is where we rich people pretend to be living in a kind of post-Soviet Switzerland, trudging along the manicured bike paths built ’round our kottedzhes and town khauses, and filling our lungs with parcels of atmosphere seemingly imported from the Alps.

The Fisherman’s gimmick is that you catch your own fish out of a man-made lake, and then for about US$50 per kilo, the kitchen staff will smoke it for you or bake it on coals. On what the police would later call “the night in question,” we were standing around the Spawning Salmon pontoon, yelling at our servants, drinking down carafes of green California Riesling, our Nokia mobilniki ringing with the social urgency that comes only when the White Nights strangle the nighttime, when the inhabitants of our ruined city are kept permanently awake by the pink afterglow of the northern sun, when the best you can do is drink your friends into the morning.

Let me tell you something: without good friends, you might as well drown yourself in Russia. After decades of listening to the familial agitprop of our parents (“We will die for you!” they sing), after surviving the criminal closeness of the Russian family (“Don’t leave us!” they plead), after the crass socialization foisted upon us by our teachers and factory directors (“We will staple your circumcised khui to the wall!” they threaten), all that’s left is that toast between two failed friends in some stinking outdoor beer kiosk.

“To your health, Misha Borisovich.”

“To your success, Dimitry Ivanovich.”

“To the army, the air force, and the whole Soviet fleet . . . Drink to the bottom!”

I’m a modest person bent on privacy and lonely sadness, so I have very few friends. My best buddy in Russia is a former American I like to call Alyosha-Bob. Born Robert Lipshitz in the northern reaches of New York State, this little bald eagle (not a single hair on his dome by age twenty-five) flew to St. Leninsburg eight years ago and was transformed, by dint of alcoholism and inertia, into a successful Rus- sian biznesman renamed Alyosha, the owner of ExcessHollywood, a riotously profitable DVD import-export business, and the swain of Svetlana, a young Petersburg hottie. In addition to being bald, Alyosha-Bob has a pinched face ending in a reddish goatee, wet blue eyes that fool you with their near-tears, and enormous flounder lips cleansed hourly by vodka. A skinhead on the metro once described him as a gnussniy zhid, or a “vile-looking Yid,” and I think most of the populace sees him that way. I certainly did when I first met him as a fellow undergraduate at Accidental College in the American Midwest a decade ago.

Alyosha-Bob and I have an interesting hobby that we indulge whenever possible. We think of ourselves as the Gentlemen Who Like to Rap. Our oeuvre stretches from the old-school jams of Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Public Enemy to the sensuous contemporary rhythms of ghetto tech, a hybrid of Miami bass, Chicago ghetto tracks, and Detroit electronica. The modern reader may be familiar with “Ass-N-Titties” by DJ Assault, perhaps the seminal work of the genre.

On the night in question, I got the action started with a Detroit ditty I enjoy on summer days:

Aw, shit

Heah I come

Shut yo mouf

And bite yo tongue.

Alyosha-Bob, in his torn Helmut Lang slacks and Accidental College sweatshirt, picked up the tune:

Aw, girl,

You think you bad?

Let me see you

Bounce dat ass.

Our melodies rang out over the Russian Fisherman’s four pontoons (Spawning Salmon, Imperial Sturgeon, Capricious Trout, and Sweet Little Butterfish), over this whole tiny man-made lake, whatever the hell it’s called (Dollar Lake? Euro Pond?), over the complimentary-valet-parking-lot where one of the oafish employees just dented my new Land Rover.

Heah come dat bitch

From round de way

Box my putz

Like Cassius Clay.

“Sing it, Snack Daddy!” Alyosha-Bob cheered me on, using my Accidental College nickname.

My name is Vainberg

I like ho’s

Sniff ’em out

Wid my Hebrew nose

Pump that shit

From ’round the back

Big-booty ho

Ack ack ack

This being Russia, a nation of busybody peasants thrust into an awkward modernity, some idiot will always endeavor to spoil your good fun. And so the neighboring biznesman, a sunburned midlevel killer standing next to his pasty girlfriend from some cow-filled province, starts in with “Now, fellows, why do you have to sing like African exchange students? You both look so cultured”—in other words, like vile-looking Yids—“why don’t you declaim some Pushkin instead? Didn’t he have some nice verses about the White Nights? That would be very seasonal.”

“Hey, if Pushkin were alive today, he’d be a rapper,” I said.

“That’s right,” Alyosha-Bob said. “He’d be M.C. Push.”

“Fight the power!” I said in English.

Our Pushkin-loving friend stared at us. This is what happens when you don’t learn English, by the way. You’re always at a loss for words. “God help you children,” he finally said, taking his lady friend by one diminutive arm and guiding her over to the other side of the pontoon.



Children? Was he talking about us? What would an Ice Cube or an Ice-T do in this situation? I reached for my mobilnik, ready to dial my Park Avenue analyst, Dr. Levine, to tell him that once again I had been insulted and injured, that once again I had been undermined by a fellow Russian.

And then I heard my manservant, Timofey, ringing his special hand bell. The mobilnik fell out of my hand, the Pushkin lover and his girlfriend disappeared from the pontoon, the pontoon itself floated off into another dimension, even Dr. Levine and his soft American ministrations were reduced to a distant hum.

It was feeding time.

With a low bow, manservant Timofey presented me with a tray of blackened sturgeon kebabs and a carafe of Black Label. I fell down on a hard plastic chair that twisted and torqued beneath my weight like a piece of modern sculpture. I bent over the sturgeon, sniffing it with closed eyes as if offering a silent prayer. My feet were locked together, my ankles grinding into each other with expectant anxiety. I prepared for my meal in the usual fashion: fork in my left hand; my dominant right clenched into a fist on my lap, ready to punch anyone who dared take away my food.

I bit into the sturgeon kebab, filling my mouth with both the crisp burnt edges and the smooth mealy interior. My body trembled in- side my leviathan Puma tracksuit, my heroic gut spinning counter- clockwise, my two-scoop breasts slapping against each other. The usual food-inspired images presented themselves. Myself, my Beloved Papa, and my young mother in a hollowed-out boat built to resemble a white swan floating past a grotto, triumphant Stalin-era music echoing around us (“Here’s my passport! What a passport! It’s my great red Soviet passport!”), Beloved Papa’s wet hands rubbing my tummy and skirting the waistband of my shorts, and Mommy’s smooth, dry ones brushing against the nape of my neck, a chorus of their hoarse, tired voices saying, “We love you, Misha. We love you, bear cub.”

My body fell into a rocking motion like the religious people rock when they’re deep in the thrall of their god. I finished off the first kebab and the one after that, my chin oily with sturgeon juices, my breasts shivering as if they’d been smothered with packets of ice. Another chunk of fish fell into my mouth, this one well dusted with parsley and olive oil. I breathed in the smells of the sea, my right fist still clenched, fingers digging into palm, my nose touching the plate, sturgeon extract coating my nostrils, my little circumcised khui burning with the joy of release.

And then it was over. And then the kebabs were gone. I was left with an empty plate. I was left with nothing before me. Ah, dear me. Where was I now? An abandoned bear cub without his li’l fishy. I splashed a glass of water on my face and dabbed myself off with a napkin Timofey had tucked into my tracksuit. I picked up the carafe of Black Label, pressed it to my cold lips, and, with a single tilt of the wrist, emptied it into my gullet.

The world was golden around me, the evening sun setting light to a row of swaying alders; the alders abuzz with the warble of siskin birds, those striped yellow fellows from our nursery rhymes. I turned pastoral for a moment, my thoughts running to Beloved Papa, who was born in a village and for whom village life should be prescribed, as only there—half asleep in a cowshed, naked and ugly, but sober all the same—do the soft tremors of what could be happiness cross his swollen Aramaic face. I would have to bring him here one day, to the Home of the Russian Fisherman. I would buy him a few chilled bottles of his favorite Flagman vodka, take him out to the farthest pontoon, put my arm around his dandruff-dusted shoulders, press his tiny lemur head into one of my side hams, and make him understand that despite all the disappointments I have handed him over the past twenty years, the two of us are meant to be together forever.



Emerging from the food’s thrall, I noticed that the demographics of the Spawning Salmon pontoon were changing. A group of young coworkers in blue blazers had shown up, led by a buffoon in a bow tie who played the role of a “fun person,” breaking the coworkers up into teams, thrusting fishing rods into their weak hands, and leading them in a chorus of “Fi-ish! Fi-ish! Fi-ish!” What the hell was going on here? Was this the first sign of an emerging Russian middle class? Did all these idiots work for a German bank? Perhaps they were holders of American MBAs.

Meanwhile, all eyes fell on a striking older woman in a full-length white gown and black Mikimoto pearls, casting her line into the man-made lake. She was one of those mysteriously elegant women who appeared to have walked in from the year 1913, as if all those red pioneer scarves and peasant blouses from our jackass Soviet days had never alighted on her delicate shoulders.

I am not enamored of such people, I must say. How is it possi- ble to live outside of history? Who can claim immunity to it by dint of beauty and breeding? My only consolation was that neither this charming creature nor the young Deutsche Bank workers now shouting in unison “Sal-mon! Sal-mon!” would catch any tasty fish today. Beloved Papa and I have an agreement with the management of the Home of the Russian Fisherman restaurant—whenever a Vainberg takes up a rod, the owner’s nephew puts on his Aqua-Lung, swims under the pontoons, and hooks the best fish on our lines. So all Czarina with the Black Pearls would get for her troubles would be a tasteless, defective salmon.

You can’t ignore history altogether.



On the night in question, Alyosha-Bob and I were joined by three lovely females: Rouenna, the love of my life, visiting for two weeks from the Bronx, New York; Svetlana, Alyosha-Bob’s dark-eyed Tatar beauty, a junior public-relations executive for a local chain of perfume shops; and Beloved Papa’s twenty-one-year-old provincial wife, Lyuba.

I must say, I was anxious about bringing these women together (also, I have a generalized fear of women). Svetlana and Rouenna have aggressive personalities; Lyuba and Rouenna were once lower-class and lack refinement; and Svetlana and Lyuba, being Russian, present with symptoms of mild depression rooted in early childhood trauma (cf. Papadapolis, Spiro, “It’s My Pierogi: Transgenerational Conflict in Post-Soviet Families,” Annals of Post-Lacanian Psychiatry, Boulder/Paris, Vol. 23, No. 8, 1997). A part of me expected discord among the women, or what the Americans call “fireworks.” Another part of me just wanted to see that snobby bitch Svetlana get her ass kicked.

While Alyosha-Bob and I were rapping, Lyuba’s servant girl had been making the girls pretty with lipstick and pomade in one of the Fisherman’s changing huts, and when they joined us on the pontoon, they reeked of fake citrus (and a touch of real sweat), their dainty lips aglow in the summer twilight, their teeny voices abuzz with interesting conversation about Stockmann, the celebrated Finnish emporium on St. Leninsburg’s main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt. They were discussing a summer special—two hand-fluffed Finnish towels for US$20—both towels distinguished by their highly un-Russian, shockingly Western color: orange.

Listening to the tale of the orange towel, I got a little engorged down in the circumcised purple half-khui department. These women of ours were so cute! Well, not my stepmother, Lyuba, obviously, who is eleven years younger than me and happens to spend her nights moaning unconvincingly under the coniferous trunk of Beloved Papa, with his impressive turtlelike khui (blessed memories of it swinging about in the bathtub, my curious toddler hands trying to snatch it).

And I wasn’t hot for Svetlana, either; despite her fashionable Mongol cheekbones, her clingy Italian sweater, and that profoundly calculated aloofness, the supposedly sexy posturing of the educated Russian woman, despite all that, let me tell you, I absolutely refuse to sleep with one of my co-nationals. God only knows where they’ve been.

So that leaves me with my Rouenna Sales (pronounced Sah-lez, in the Spanish manner), my South Bronx girlie-girl, my big-boned precious, my giant multicultural swallow, with her crinkly hair violently pulled back into a red handkerchief, with her glossy pear-shaped brown nose always in need of kisses and lotion.

“I think,” said my stepmom, Lyuba, in English for Rouenna’s benefit, “I thought,” she added. She was having trouble with her tenses. “I think, I thought . . . I think, I thought . . .”

I sink, I sought . . . I sink, I sought . . .

“What are you sinking, darling?” asked Svetlana, tugging on her line impatiently.

But Lyuba would not be so easily discouraged from express- ing herself in a bright new language. Married for two years to the 1,238th richest man in Russia, the dear woman was finally coming to terms with her true worth. Recently a Milanese doctor had been hired to burn out the malicious orange freckles ringing her coarse nubbin, while a Bilbao surgeon was on his way to chisel out the baby fat flapping around her tufty teenager’s cheeks (the fat actually made her look more sympathetic, like a ruined farm girl just coming out of her adolescence).

“I think, I thought,” Lyuba said, “that orange towel so ugly. For girl is nice lavender, for boy like my husband, Boris, light blue, for servant black because her hand already dirty.”

“Damn, sugar,” Rouenna said. “You’re hard-core.”

“What it is ‘harcourt’?”

“Talking shit about servants. Like they got dirty hands and all.”

“I sink . . .” Lyuba grew embarrassed and looked down at her own hands, with their tough provincial calluses. She whispered to me in Russian, “Tell her, Misha, that before I met your papa, I was unfortunate, too.”

“Lyuba was poor back in 1998,” I explained to Rouenna in En- glish. “Then my papa married her.”

“Is that right, sister?” Rouenna said.

“You are calling me sister?” Lyuba whispered, her sweet Russian soul atremble. She put down her fishing line and spread open her arms. “Then I will be your sister, too, Rouennachka!”

“It’s just an African-American expression,” I told her.

“It sure is,” Rouenna said, coming over to give Lyuba a hug, which the temperate girl tearfully reciprocated. “ ’Cause, as far as I can tell, all of you Russians are just a bunch of niggaz.”

“What are you saying?” Svetlana said.

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” Rouenna said. “I mean it like a compliment.”

“It’s no compliment!” Svetlana barked. “Explain yourself.”

“Chill, honey,” Rouenna said. “All I’m saying is, you know . . . your men don’t got no jobs, everyone’s always doing drive-bys whenever they got beefs, the childrens got asthma, and y’all live in public housing.”

“Misha doesn’t live in public housing,” Svetlana said. “I don’t live in public housing.”

“Yeah, but you’re different from the other peeps. You’re all like OGs,” Rouenna said, making a ghetto gesture with her arm.

“We’re what?”

“Original gangsters,” Alyosha-Bob explained.

“Look at Misha,” Rouenna said. “His father killed an American businessman over some bullshit, and now he can’t get a U.S. fucking visa. That’s, like, hard-core.”

“It’s not all because of Papa,” I whispered. “It’s the American consulate. It’s the State Department. They hate me.”

“Again, what it is ‘harcourt’?” Lyuba asked, unsure where the conversation was heading and whether or not she and Rouenna were still sisters.

Svetlana dropped her line and turned on me and Alyosha-Bob with both hands on her negligible waist. “It’s your fault,” she seethed in Russian. “With all of your stupid rapping. With that idiot ghetto tech. No wonder people treat us like we’re animals.”

“We were just having fun,” Alyosha-Bob said.

“If you want to be a Russian,” Svetlana told my friend, “you have to think of what kind of image you want to project. Everyone already thinks we’re bandits and whores. We’ve got to rebrand ourselves.”

“I apologize with all my soul,” Alyosha-Bob said, his hands symbolically covering his heart. “We will not rap in front of you from now on. We will work on our image.”

“Damn, what are you niggaz going on about?” Rouenna said. “Speak English already.”

Svetlana turned to me with her fierce off-color eyes. I stepped back, nearly tipping over into the Spawning Salmon waters. My fingers were already skirting Dr. Levine’s emergency speed dial when my manservant, Timofey, ran up to us in great haste, choking on his own sour breath. “Ai, batyushka,” my manservant said, pausing for air. “Forgive Timofey for the interruption, why don’t you? For he is a sinner just like the rest of them. But sir, I must warn you! The police are on their way. I fear they are looking for you—”

I didn’t quite catch his meaning until a baritone yelp from the neighboring Capricious Trout pontoon caught my attention. “Police!” a gentleman was braying. The young bank workers with their American MBAs, the old czarina in her black pearls and white gown, the Pushkin-loving biznesman—everyone was making for the complimentary valet parking where their Land Rovers were idling. Running past them were three wide gendarmes, their snazzy blue caps embossed with the scrawny two-headed Russian eagle, followed by their leader, an older man in civilian clothing, his hands in his pockets, taking his time.

It was apparent that the pigs were headed squarely for me. Alyosha-Bob moved in to protect me, placing his hands on my back and my belly as if I were in danger of capsizing. I decided to stand my ground. Such an outrage! In civilized countries like Canada, a well-heeled man and his fishing party are left in peace by the authorities, even if they have committed a crime. The old man in civvies, who I later learned had the tasty name of Belugin (just like the caviar), gently pushed aside my friend. He placed his snout within a centimeter of my own, so that I was looking into a grizzled old man’s face, eyes yellow around the pupils, a face that in Russia bespeaks authority and incompetence both. He was staring at me with great emotion, as if he wanted my money. “Misha Vainberg?” he said.

“And what of it?” I said. The implication being: Do you know who I am?

“Your papa has just been murdered on the Palace Bridge,” the policeman told me. “By a land mine. A German tourist filmed everything.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

The Night in Question

June 15, 2001

I am Misha Borisovich Vainberg, age thirty, a grossly overweight man with small, deeply set blue eyes, a pretty Jewish beak that brings to mind the most distinguished breed of parrot, and lips so delicate you would want to wipe them with the naked back of your hand.

For many of my last years, I have lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, neither by choice nor by desire. The City of the Czars, the Venice of the North, Russia’s cultural capital . . . forget all that. By the year 2001, our St. Leninsburg has taken on the appearance of a phantasmagoric third-world city, our neoclassical buildings sinking into the crap-choked canals, bizarre peasant huts fashioned out of corrugated metal and plywood colonizing the broad avenues with their capitalist iconography (cigarette ads featuring an American football player catching a hamburger with a baseball mitt), and what is worst of all, our intelligent, depressive citizenry has been replaced by a new race of mutants dressed in studied imitation of the West, young women in tight Lycra, their scooped-up little breasts pointing at once to New York and Shanghai, with men in fake black Calvin Klein jeans hanging limply around their caved-in asses.

The good news is that when you’re an incorrigible fatso like me—325 pounds at last count—and the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, all of St. Leninsburg rushes out to service you: the drawbridges lower themselves as you advance, and the pretty palaces line up alongside the canal banks, thrusting their busty friezes in your face. You are blessed with the rarest treasure to be found in this mineral-rich land. You are blessed with respect.

On the night of June 15 in the catastrophic year 2001, I was getting plenty of respect from my friends at a restaurant called the Home of the Russian Fisherman on Krestovskiy Island, one of the verdant islands caught in the delta of the Neva River. Krestovskiy is where we rich people pretend to be living in a kind of post-Soviet Switzerland, trudging along the manicured bike paths built ’round our kottedzhes and town khauses, and filling our lungs with parcels of atmosphere seemingly imported from the Alps.

The Fisherman’s gimmick is that you catch your own fish out of a man-made lake, and then for about US$50 per kilo, the kitchen staff will smoke it for you or bake it on coals. On what the police would later call "the night in question," we were standing around the Spawning Salmon pontoon, yelling at our servants, drinking down carafes of green California Riesling, our Nokia mobilniki ringing with the social urgency that comes only when the White Nights strangle the nighttime, when the inhabitants of our ruined city are kept permanently awake by the pink afterglow of the northern sun, when the best you can do is drink your friends into the morning.

Let me tell you something: without good friends, you might as well drown yourself in Russia. After decades of listening to the familial agitprop of our parents ("We will die for you!" they sing), after surviving the criminal closeness of the Russian family ("Don’t leave us!" they plead), after the crass socialization foisted upon us by our teachers and factory directors ("We will staple your circumcised khui to the wall!" they threaten), all that’s left is that toast between two failed friends in some stinking outdoor beer kiosk.

"To your health, Misha Borisovich."

"To your success, Dimitry Ivanovich."

"To the army, the air force, and the whole Soviet fleet . . . Drink to the bottom!"

I’m a modest person bent on privacy and lonely sadness, so I have very few friends. My best buddy in Russia is a former American I like to call Alyosha-Bob. Born Robert Lipshitz in the northern reaches of New York State, this little bald eagle (not a single hair on his dome by age twenty-five) flew to St. Leninsburg eight years ago and was transformed, by dint of alcoholism and inertia, into a successful Rus- sian biznesman renamed Alyosha, the owner of ExcessHollywood, a riotously profitable DVD import-export business, and the swain of Svetlana, a young Petersburg hottie. In addition to being bald, Alyosha-Bob has a pinched face ending in a reddish goatee, wet blue eyes that fool you with their near-tears, and enormous flounder lips cleansed hourly by vodka. A skinhead on the metro once described him as a gnussniy zhid, or a "vile-looking Yid," and I think most of the populace sees him that way. I certainly did when I first met him as a fellow undergraduate at Accidental College in the American Midwest a decade ago.

Alyosha-Bob and I have an interesting hobby that we indulge whenever possible. We think of ourselves as the Gentlemen Who Like to Rap. Our oeuvre stretches from the old-school jams of Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Public Enemy to the sensuous contemporary rhythms of ghetto tech, a hybrid of Miami bass, Chicago ghetto tracks, and Detroit electronica. The modern reader may be familiar with "Ass-N-Titties" by DJ Assault, perhaps the seminal work of the genre.

On the night in question, I got the action started with a Detroit ditty I enjoy on summer days:

Aw, shit

Heah I come

Shut yo mouf

And bite yo tongue.

Alyosha-Bob, in his torn Helmut Lang slacks and Accidental College sweatshirt, picked up the tune:

Aw, girl,

You think you bad?

Let me see you

Bounce dat ass.

Our melodies rang out over the Russian Fisherman’s four pontoons (Spawning Salmon, Imperial Sturgeon, Capricious Trout, and Sweet Little Butterfish), over this whole tiny man-made lake, whatever the hell it’s called (Dollar Lake? Euro Pond?), over the complimentary-valet-parking-lot where one of the oafish employees just dented my new Land Rover.

Heah come dat bitch

From round de way

Box my putz

Like Cassius Clay.

"Sing it, Snack Daddy!" Alyosha-Bob cheered me on, using my Accidental College nickname.

My name is Vainberg

I like ho’s

Sniff ’em out

Wid my Hebrew nose

Pump that shit

From ’round the back

Big-booty ho

Ack ack ack

This being Russia, a nation of busybody peasants thrust into an awkward modernity, some idiot will always endeavor to spoil your good fun. And so the neighboring biznesman, a sunburned midlevel killer standing next to his pasty girlfriend from some cow-filled province, starts in with "Now, fellows, why do you have to sing like African exchange students? You both look so cultured"—in other words, like vile-looking Yids—"why don’t you declaim some Pushkin instead? Didn’t he have some nice verses about the White Nights? That would be very seasonal."

"Hey, if Pushkin were alive today, he’d be a rapper," I said.

"That’s right," Alyosha-Bob said. "He’d be M.C. Push."

"Fight the power!" I said in English.

Our Pushkin-loving friend stared at us. This is what happens when you don’t learn English, by the way. You’re always at a loss for words. "God help you children," he finally said, taking his lady friend by one diminutive arm and guiding her over to the other side of the pontoon.

Children? Was he talking about us? What would an Ice Cube or an Ice-T do in this situation? I reached for my mobilnik, ready to dial my Park Avenue analyst, Dr. Levine, to tell him that once again I had been insulted and injured, that once again I had been undermined by a fellow Russian.

And then I heard my manservant, Timofey, ringing his special hand bell. The mobilnik fell out of my hand, the Pushkin lover and his girlfriend disappeared from the pontoon, the pontoon itself floated off into another dimension, even Dr. Levine and his soft American ministrations were reduced to a distant hum.

It was feeding time.

With a low bow, manservant Timofey presented me with a tray of blackened sturgeon kebabs and a carafe of Black Label. I fell down on a hard plastic chair that twisted and torqued beneath my weight like a piece of modern sculpture. I bent over the sturgeon, sniffing it with closed eyes as if offering a silent prayer. My feet were locked together, my ankles grinding into each other with expectant anxiety. I prepared for my meal in the usual fashion: fork in my left hand; my dominant right clenched into a fist on my lap, ready to punch anyone who dared take away my food.

I bit into the sturgeon kebab, filling my mouth with both the crisp burnt edges and the smooth mealy interior. My body trembled in- side my leviathan Puma tracksuit, my heroic gut spinning counter- clockwise, my two-scoop breasts slapping against each other. The usual food-inspired images presented themselves. Myself, my Beloved Papa, and my young mother in a hollowed-out boat built to resemble a white swan floating past a grotto, triumphant Stalin-era music echoing around us ("Here’s my passport! What a passport! It’s my great red Soviet passport!"), Beloved Papa’s wet hands rubbing my tummy and skirting the waistband of my shorts, and Mommy’s smooth, dry ones brushing against the nape of my neck, a chorus of their hoarse, tired voices saying, "We love you, Misha. We love you, bear cub."

My body fell into a rocking motion like the religious people rock when they’re deep in the thrall of their god. I finished off the first kebab and the one after that, my chin oily with sturgeon juices, my breasts shivering as if they’d been smothered with packets of ice. Another chunk of fish fell into my mouth, this one well dusted with parsley and olive oil. I breathed in the smells of the sea, my right fist still clenched, fingers digging into palm, my nose touching the plate, sturgeon extract coating my nostrils, my little circumcised khui burning with the joy of release.

And then it was over. And then the kebabs were gone. I was left with an empty plate. I was left with nothing before me. Ah, dear me. Where was I now? An abandoned bear cub without his li’l fishy. I splashed a glass of water on my face and dabbed myself off with a napkin Timofey had tucked into my tracksuit. I picked up the carafe of Black Label, pressed it to my cold lips, and, with a single tilt of the wrist, emptied it into my gullet.

The world was golden around me, the evening sun setting light to a row of swaying alders; the alders abuzz with the warble of siskin birds, those striped yellow fellows from our nursery rhymes. I turned pastoral for a moment, my thoughts running to Beloved Papa, who was born in a village and for whom village life should be prescribed, as only there—half asleep in a cowshed, naked and ugly, but sober all the same—do the soft tremors of what could be happiness cross his swollen Aramaic face. I would have to bring him here one day, to the Home of the Russian Fisherman. I would buy him a few chilled bottles of his favorite Flagman vodka, take him out to the farthest pontoon, put my arm around his dandruff-dusted shoulders, press his tiny lemur head into one of my side hams, and make him understand that despite all the disappointments I have handed him over the past twenty years, the two of us are meant to be together forever.

Emerging from the food’s thrall, I noticed that the demographics of the Spawning Salmon pontoon were changing. A group of young coworkers in blue blazers had shown up, led by a buffoon in a bow tie who played the role of a "fun person," breaking the coworkers up into teams, thrusting fishing rods into their weak hands, and leading them in a chorus of "Fi-ish! Fi-ish! Fi-ish!" What the hell was going on here? Was this the first sign of an emerging Russian middle class? Did all these idiots work for a German bank? Perhaps they were holders of American MBAs.

Meanwhile, all eyes fell on a striking older woman in a full-length white gown and black Mikimoto pearls, casting her line into the man-made lake. She was one of those mysteriously elegant women who appeared to have walked in from the year 1913, as if all those red pioneer scarves and peasant blouses from our jackass Soviet days had never alighted on her delicate shoulders.

I am not enamored of such people, I must say. How is it possi- ble to live outside of history? Who can claim immunity to it by dint of beauty and breeding? My only consolation was that neither this charming creature nor the young Deutsche Bank workers now shouting in unison "Sal-mon! Sal-mon!" would catch any tasty fish today. Beloved Papa and I have an agreement with the management of the Home of the Russian Fisherman restaurant—whenever a Vainberg takes up a rod, the owner’s nephew puts on his Aqua-Lung, swims under the pontoons, and hooks the best fish on our lines. So all Czarina with the Black Pearls would get for her troubles would be a tasteless, defective salmon.

You can’t ignore history altogether.

On the night in question, Alyosha-Bob and I were joined by three lovely females: Rouenna, the love of my life, visiting for two weeks from the Bronx, New York; Svetlana, Alyosha-Bob’s dark-eyed Tatar beauty, a junior public-relations executive for a local chain of perfume shops; and Beloved Papa’s twenty-one-year-old provincial wife, Lyuba.

I must say, I was anxious about bringing these women together (also, I have a generalized fear of women). Svetlana and Rouenna have aggressive personalities; Lyuba and Rouenna were once lower-class and lack refinement; and Svetlana and Lyuba, being Russian, present with symptoms of mild depression rooted in early childhood trauma (cf. Papadapolis, Spiro, "It’s My Pierogi: Transgenerational Conflict in Post-Soviet Families," Annals of Post-Lacanian Psychiatry, Boulder/Paris, Vol. 23, No. 8, 1997). A part of me expected discord among the women, or what the Americans call "fireworks." Another part of me just wanted to see that snobby bitch Svetlana get her ass kicked.

While Alyosha-Bob and I were rapping, Lyuba’s servant girl had been making the girls pretty with lipstick and pomade in one of the Fisherman’s changing huts, and when they joined us on the pontoon, they reeked of fake citrus (and a touch of real sweat), their dainty lips aglow in the summer twilight, their teeny voices abuzz with interesting conversation about Stockmann, the celebrated Finnish emporium on St. Leninsburg’s main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt. They were discussing a summer special—two hand-fluffed Finnish towels for US$20—both towels distinguished by their highly un-Russian, shockingly Western color: orange.

Listening to the tale of the orange towel, I got a little engorged down in the circumcised purple half-khui department. These women of ours were so cute! Well, not my stepmother, Lyuba, obviously, who is eleven years younger than me and happens to spend her nights moaning unconvincingly under the coniferous trunk of Beloved Papa, with his impressive turtlelike khui (blessed memories of it swinging about in the bathtub, my curious toddler hands trying to snatch it).

And I wasn’t hot for Svetlana, either; despite her fashionable Mongol cheekbones, her clingy Italian sweater, and that profoundly calculated aloofness, the supposedly sexy posturing of the educated Russian woman, despite all that, let me tell you, I absolutely refuse to sleep with one of my co-nationals. God only knows where they’ve been.

So that leaves me with my Rouenna Sales (pronounced Sah-lez, in the Spanish manner), my South Bronx girlie-girl, my big-boned precious, my giant multicultural swallow, with her crinkly hair violently pulled back into a red handkerchief, with her glossy pear-shaped brown nose always in need of kisses and lotion.

"I think," said my stepmom, Lyuba, in English for Rouenna’s benefit, "I thought," she added. She was having trouble with her tenses. "I think, I thought . . . I think, I thought . . ."

I sink, I sought . . . I sink, I sought . . .

"What are you sinking, darling?" asked Svetlana, tugging on her line impatiently.

But Lyuba would not be so easily discouraged from express- ing herself in a bright new language. Married for two years to the 1,238th richest man in Russia, the dear woman was finally coming to terms with her true worth. Recently a Milanese doctor had been hired to burn out the malicious orange freckles ringing her coarse nubbin, while a Bilbao surgeon was on his way to chisel out the baby fat flapping around her tufty teenager’s cheeks (the fat actually made her look more sympathetic, like a ruined farm girl just coming out of her adolescence).

"I think, I thought," Lyuba said, "that orange towel so ugly. For girl is nice lavender, for boy like my husband, Boris, light blue, for servant black because her hand already dirty."

"Damn, sugar," Rouenna said. "You’re hard-core."

"What it is ‘harcourt’?"

"Talking shit about servants. Like they got dirty hands and all."

"I sink . . ." Lyuba grew embarrassed and looked down at her own hands, with their tough provincial calluses. She whispered to me in Russian, "Tell her, Misha, that before I met your papa, I was unfortunate, too."

"Lyuba was poor back in 1998," I explained to Rouenna in En- glish. "Then my papa married her."

"Is that right, sister?" Rouenna said.

"You are calling me sister?" Lyuba whispered, her sweet Russian soul atremble. She put down her fishing line and spread open her arms. "Then I will be your sister, too, Rouennachka!"

"It’s just an African-American expression," I told her.

"It sure is," Rouenna said, coming over to give Lyuba a hug, which the temperate girl tearfully reciprocated. " ’Cause, as far as I can tell, all of you Russians are just a bunch of niggaz."

"What are you saying?" Svetlana said.

"Don’t take it the wrong way," Rouenna said. "I mean it like a compliment."

"It’s no compliment!" Svetlana barked. "Explain yourself."

"Chill, honey," Rouenna said. "All I’m saying is, you know . . . your men don’t got no jobs, everyone’s always doing drive-bys whenever they got beefs, the childrens got asthma, and y’all live in public housing."

"Misha doesn’t live in public housing," Svetlana said. "I don’t live in public housing."

"Yeah, but you’re different from the other peeps. You’re all like OGs," Rouenna said, making a ghetto gesture with her arm.

"We’re what?"

"Original gangsters," Alyosha-Bob explained.

"Look at Misha," Rouenna said. "His father killed an American businessman over some bullshit, and now he can’t get a U.S. fucking visa. That’s, like, hard-core."

"It’s not all because of Papa," I whispered. "It’s the American consulate. It’s the State Department. They hate me."

"Again, what it is ‘harcourt’?" Lyuba asked, unsure where the conversation was heading and whether or not she and Rouenna were still sisters.

Svetlana dropped her line and turned on me and Alyosha-Bob with both hands on her negligible waist. "It’s your fault," she seethed in Russian. "With all of your stupid rapping. With that idiot ghetto tech. No wonder people treat us like we’re animals."

"We were just having fun," Alyosha-Bob said.

"If you want to be a Russian," Svetlana told my friend, "you have to think of what kind of image you want to project. Everyone already thinks we’re bandits and whores. We’ve got to rebrand ourselves."

"I apologize with all my soul," Alyosha-Bob said, his hands symbolically covering his heart. "We will not rap in front of you from now on. We will work on our image."

"Damn, what are you niggaz going on about?" Rouenna said. "Speak English already."

Svetlana turned to me with her fierce off-color eyes. I stepped back, nearly tipping over into the Spawning Salmon waters. My fingers were already skirting Dr. Levine’s emergency speed dial when my manservant, Timofey, ran up to us in great haste, choking on his own sour breath. "Ai, batyushka," my manservant said, pausing for air. "Forgive Timofey for the interruption, why don’t you? For he is a sinner just like the rest of them. But sir, I must warn you! The police are on their way. I fear they are looking for you—"

I didn’t quite catch his meaning until a baritone yelp from the neighboring Capricious Trout pontoon caught my attention. "Police!" a gentleman was braying. The young bank workers with their American MBAs, the old czarina in her black pearls and white gown, the Pushkin-loving biznesman—everyone was making for the complimentary valet parking where their Land Rovers were idling. Running past them were three wide gendarmes, their snazzy blue caps embossed with the scrawny two-headed Russian eagle, followed by their leader, an older man in civilian clothing, his hands in his pockets, taking his time.

It was apparent that the pigs were headed squarely for me. Alyosha-Bob moved in to protect me, placing his hands on my back and my belly as if I were in danger of capsizing. I decided to stand my ground. Such an outrage! In civilized countries like Canada, a well-heeled man and his fishing party are left in peace by the authorities, even if they have committed a crime. The old man in civvies, who I later learned had the tasty name of Belugin (just like the caviar), gently pushed aside my friend. He placed his snout within a centimeter of my own, so that I was looking into a grizzled old man’s face, eyes yellow around the pupils, a face that in Russia bespeaks authority and incompetence both. He was staring at me with great emotion, as if he wanted my money. "Misha Vainberg?" he said.

"And what of it?" I said. The implication being: Do you know who I am?

"Your papa has just been murdered on the Palace Bridge," the policeman told me. "By a land mine. A German tourist filmed everything."

_______________________________________________________

Excerpted from Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart Copyright © 2006 by Gary Shteyngart. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(4)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2008

    The NYTimes really missed it on this one.

    I bought this book based on its great write up in the NYTimes, expecting a funny semi-political satire. I may have smiled during a few moments, but most of this book is about a bumbling Russian trust fund kid who I could not relate to, and found both distasteful and annoying. The story itself is weak and not very compelling- this is one of those books where upon reaching the end I was happy it was over as opposed to being disappointed that it had ended so soon.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2009

    Great read...

    Working in the Caucasus for 14 years, I found this book to be really familiar and of course, anyone that knows the Caucasus can say all written in this book is possible and even likely to track along side reality of life there. I found it to be very funny in a quirky way and very topical. I liked the writing style very much. Some moments are a little 'TMI' but again that probably made it all the more 'honest in an absurd way'... I have recommended this book to all of my clients and those that have worked with me and love the Caucasus for all of it's quirky good and bad alter universe moments!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2007

    A Russian Jew

    My teacher recommended this book to me. At first i was a bit reluctant in getting it. Though, at the first chapter it already interested me. Absurdistan is about Misha Borisovitch Vainberg, a russian jew, who lost his father and is trying to find meaning in his life. As befuddled as he was, Misha knew that he had to escape from Russia and move to America. So,before going to America, Misha winds up in a country known as Absurdistan which is remote from the world. During his stay in Absurdistan, Misha experiences bouts of jollity, and anxiety, inundated sexual pleasure, and overwhelming moral lugubrious anguish. However, through all these obstacles that he encountered, he ultimately spawned a new affinity for the Jewish people, and progressively transmogrified into a more philanthropic human being. Gary Shteyngart is a very powerful, comical writer and i would absolutely recommend this book without hesitation to anyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 27, 2012

    Upon first reading, I found the book entertaining and politicall

    Upon first reading, I found the book entertaining and politically insightful. I'm not generally a fan of cruel humor, which this book's treatment of its narrator first seemed. The more I think about it, however, the smarter it becomes and more lovable and tragic Misha becomes. Despite the laughs (which often feel cheap), this book longs for a long-term engagement with questions of identity, intimacy and values in a globalized, consumerist world of perpetual simulacra.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 7, 2012

    The story is an epic. Absurdistan is kind of a modern, deconstru

    The story is an epic. Absurdistan is kind of a modern, deconstructed Moby Dick. Everybody is seeking something, like in Gravity's Rainbow. And like Gravity's Rainbow, the world is falling apart in the most disconcerting ways. Misha is, literally, his own white whale, and by finding what he's looking for, he resolves the story beautifully. I read a review here where the reader found the character distasteful and annoying. That's not surprising since the character himself insists he's distasteful, spoiled, effete, parasitic and annoying. But he's not, he's magnificent. I'm sorry that person didn't give the book a chance. It's really worth the trouble.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Drag

    The book is a strange story about love, the affection for a beloved papa, for the city of New York, for a sweet and poor girl in the Bronx and for the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service).

    The story is told by Misha Borisovich Vainberg, aka "Snack Daddy" a grossly overweight man, an in your face secular Jew with a distinguishably parrot beak and above all, the son the 1238th richest man in Russia. While in the US, on a student visa, he has earned a degree in multicultural studies from Accidental College NY and his sole ambition is to immigrate to the USA and live with his hot Latina girlfriend. However it was not meant to be, it was discovered his gangster father had murdered a businessman in Oklahoma, and to make matters worse his visa card was revoked.

    Misha sees his salvation in the oil-rich nation of Absurdistan where consular officers can be easily bought and will sell him a Belgian passport. With his new identity and help from his friend Alosh-Bob and his manservant Timofey, Misha hopes to circumvent previous hurdles but things do not go as planned and everything turns south..

    I am surely not the only one to realize that 338 pages of satire quickly becomes a drag especially if the story doesn't grab you from the start. Maintaining a steady diet of satire and mockery has its limits and is not meant for everyone, Misha's pathetic sex driven and unappealing character reaches a point of over exposure and a turn off. I felt the book to be mostly ridiculous, unbelievable and above all absurd. All this said, it may nevertheless appeal to a certain group with a broader sense of humour.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2008

    No, but thanks.

    Wading through `Absurdistan,¿ you will slush by floating logs of banal satire and bobbing accounts of smutt. Perhaps you trudge on, grappling for the 'masterful panoramic descriptions' Walter Kirn promises in his NY Times review, but these glimmering moments in Shteyngart's book are just as brief and extraordinary as the protagonist's flatulence. One would hope that the virtuoso of indulgence that is Misha Vainberg would win the reader over with humorous appeal, or at least some endearing quality...something..., but Shteyengart heavily relies on Misha's disclosure to the reader alone to make him a feasible hero. Midway through and one lewd sexual encounter too many, you'll find yourself drowning in a swamp of predictable stereotypes, convoluted plotlines, and plates of Hyatt buffalo wings. If you can¿t grab hold of the inadequate culturally and socially relative rafts the author dangles over you, then perhaps, as he seems to believe, sultry descriptions of prostitutes¿ backsides and junk food will keep you afloat.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 24, 2010

    Satire for the Politically Savvy

    Absurdistan tells the tale of one Misha Vainberg, a wealthy Russian who's purpose in life is to move to the United States. He is unable to do so because his father, known as "Beloved Papa" for most of the book, killed a businessman from Oklahoma, and the US government refuses to let Misha into the country because of his father's criminal history. Determined to somehow gain admittance to America, Misha decides to first become a European citizen, a Belgian to be exact, because he believes it will be easier to become an American citizen once he is a citizen of the EU. His quest leads him to Absurdistan, a small country close to Iran, on the Caspian Sea. There he finds out about the ongoing civil war between the country's two factions, the Sevo and the Svani. The main difference between the two groups is the direction in which "Christ's footrest" is placed on the traditional Christian cross. (This will be easier to understand if you actually read the book.) Misha then sets out to help the Sevo and Svani settle their differences and find peace again. I'll have to stop here so as not to give the ending away.


    Let me start by saying that Absurdistan is one of the most bizarre books I have ever read. The writing is very frank and sharp, but also very funny. The tone is satirical and sarcastic, which threw me off at first, but I began to enjoy it more as I continued reading. The only real complaint I had was the amount of sexual references. In my opinion, there were far too many. I understand that they can sometimes provide comedic relief, but I found myself getting annoyed by them, especially at the beginning of the book, when they seemed to have no relevance. Other than that, this book was very amusing and an entertaining read to say the least.


    Warning: I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of 16. It can be very graphic at times and some of the material is rather mature.

    If you would like to read more of my book reviews, please visit my blog at ayushi30.blogspot.com

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)