Ground Up: A Novel

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Overview

Light streams through the windows as the espresso machine roars; a gorgeous, rich scent fills the air; and witty conversation unspools over the porcelain cups.

That’s the café dream. Mark and Nina are about to experience the reality. Determined to re-create the perfect Viennese coffeehouse, they descend on New York’s gritty but hip Lower East Side to educate the locals on authentic café culture. Soon Mark and Nina are in a downward spiral that will strip them of money, friends, ...

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Ground Up: A Novel

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Overview

Light streams through the windows as the espresso machine roars; a gorgeous, rich scent fills the air; and witty conversation unspools over the porcelain cups.

That’s the café dream. Mark and Nina are about to experience the reality. Determined to re-create the perfect Viennese coffeehouse, they descend on New York’s gritty but hip Lower East Side to educate the locals on authentic café culture. Soon Mark and Nina are in a downward spiral that will strip them of money, friends, sex life, status, shelter, and, finally, sanity—and offer salvation through something they have never experienced: disaster.

Inspired by the author’s own coffeehouse hell, Ground Up is a sharp and funny portrait of a New York constantly reinventing itself, and a surprisingly tender story of falling out of love and back in it again.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“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

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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
A fiercely funny yet frequently touching novel about the nightmare that the American dream can become. The debut novel by Idov, a staff writer for New York magazine and editor of Russia!, a literary quarterly, 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. The daughter of a wealthy Chinese-American woman from whom she is semi-estranged (yet whose wealth allows Mark and Nina to live well beyond their means), Nina is a talented photographer and a deeply dissatisfied lawyer. The son of Russian Jews who live in Indiana, Mark attempts to scrape together a living by reviewing books for this very publication (with book reviewing providing much of the novel's humor as well as a pivotal plot twist). Because Nina hates her job, and Mark doesn't have much of a job, he accedes to her desire to reinvent themselves through a project where they can work together. "Nina wasn't worried about the low return," says Mark. "She wanted to be paid in meaning." Mark knows all the right literary and musical references, all the right cosmopolitan cliches, but he's a rube when it comes to real-estate agents, avaricious landlords and the intricacies of public relations. As much as he and Nina appreciate coffee, they know nothing about selling it, though they receive a crucial lesson early on. "The good news is that the margin on coffee is about a thousand percent . . . The bad news, my friends, is that Americans don't like to drink coffee . . . They hate the taste of it. What they like to drink is warm milk . . . Your job is toconvince, in an original way, a guy drinking a glass of warm milk that he's a sophisticated adult." 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374531546
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/21/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 999,727
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Idov is a staff writer for New York magazine and a frequent contributor of Russian-language columns and criticism to major Moscow publications. Ground Up is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

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