Super Sad True Love Story

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
 
SELECTED ONE OF 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
MICHIKO KAKUTANI, THE NEW YORK TIMES
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • San Francisco Chronicle • ...

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
 
SELECTED ONE OF 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
MICHIKO KAKUTANI, THE NEW YORK TIMES
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • San Francisco Chronicle • The Seattle Times • O: The Oprah Magazine • Maureen Corrigan, NPR • Salon • Slate • Minneapolis Star Tribune • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Kansas City Star • Charlotte Observer • The Globe and Mail • Vancouver Sun • Montreal Gazette • Kirkus Reviews

In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of an Russian immigrant janitor and ardent fan of “printed, bound media artifacts” (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Author Gary Shteyngart might have the most memorable name, but the author of Absurdistan continues to roll out wild dystopian novels that unnerve you even while you're laughing. Super Sad True Love Story belies almost every word of its title, but it still plunges us into a satirical realm that we can recognize if we open our eyes widely. Restless, middle-aged, maladjusted Lenny Abramov and young Eunice Park, his somewhat reluctant old-fashioned love interest alternate as narrators, each of them projecting a slightly twisted view of an even more twisted reality. A refreshing satirical romp for hip fiction readers.
From the Publisher
“Gary Shteyngart’s wonderful new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is a supersad, superfunny, superaffecting performance — a book that not only showcases the ebullient satiric gifts…but that also uncovers his abilities to write deeply and movingly about love and loss and mortality. It’s a novel that gives us a cutting comic portrait of a futuristic America, nearly ungovernable and perched on the abyss of fiscal collapse, and at the same time it is a novel that chronicles a sweetly real love affair as it blossoms from its awkward, improbable beginnings. Mr. Shteyngart spent his earliest childhood in Leningrad, then moved with his family to the United States, and “Super Sad” reflects his dual heritage, combining the dark soulfulness of Russian literature with the antic inventiveness of postmodern American writing; the tenderness of the Chekhovian tradition with the hormonal high jinks of a Judd Apatow movie…It demonstrates a new emotional bandwidth and ratifies his emergence as one of his generation’s most original and exhilarating writers…In recounting the story of Lenny and Eunice in his antic, supercaffeinated prose, Mr. Shteyngart gives us his most powerful and heartfelt novel yet — a novel that performs the delightful feat of mashing up an apocalyptic satire with a genuine supersad true love story.”
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
 
“Gary Shteyngart’s third novel, Super Sad True Love Story, had to be a total blast to write.
It’s an homage to science fiction, George Orwell’s 1984 in particular, with a satirical postmodern overlay of authorial wish fulfillment….The text consists of Lenny’s diary entries and Eunice’s e-mails to various friends and family. They both write with endearing, sometimes clumsy earnestness, and their intertwining narratives, for all the book’s cheeky darkness, pose a superserious question: Can love and language save the world?”
—Elle
 
“Shteyngart makes trenchant, often hilarious, observations about a fading empire.”
O Magazine
 
“With Shteyngart’s nutty knack for tangy language, it’s as if Vladimir Nabokov rewrote 1984.”
—People
 
“It’s not easy to summarize Shteyngart; there’s so much satirical gunpowder packed into every sentence that the effect gets lost in the short version. But basically, this is a love story [that is] ridiculously witty and painfully prescient, but more than either of those, it’s romantic.”
Time (summer preview)
 
“Finally, a funny book about the financial crisis.”
—Wall Street Journal
 
“[A] smart send-up of our info-overload age…
Love Story is funny, on-target, and ultimately sad as it captures the absurdity and anxiety of navigating an increasingly out-of-control world.”
—Entertainment Weekly
 
“Exuberant and devastating… such an acidly funny, prescient book… It’s a wildly funny book that hums with the sheer vibrancy of Shteyngart’s prose, and that holds up a riotous, terrifying mirror to a corrupted American empire in decline.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“The satirist author of Absurdistan rewrites 1984 as a black comedy set in a near future where everything scary about multinational banks, media super-saturation, and American cultural devolution is amped up to 11 (and really funny).”
—Details
 
“It’s a love story, and as super-sad as the title promises…Shteyngart is the Joseph Heller of the information age…That’s the difference between Shteyngart and the average literary satirist (or even an above-average one, like Martin Amis): his warmth…A novel that’s simultaneously so biting and so compassionate.”
—Salon
 
“As illuminating, as gut-busting, and as purely entertaining as any piece of literature will be this year.”
—GQ
 
“So I don’t risk burying my recommendation where an inattentive reader might miss it, let me say right upfront: Read this book – it’s great…Shteyngart’s hilarious dystopian novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is also sly and compliant, but like all great comedies, it is erected inside a scaffolding of sorrow, as the title promises…Shteyngart is a droll Kafka — not so enigmatic, perhaps, but just as inimitable, and much, much funnier. He has a genius for composing the perfect, concise, illuminating phrase…Shteyngart, without resorting to pyrotechnics or hyperbole, insinuates his readers into an original, engaging and frightening world, at once foreign and familiar. I loved this novel.”
—Portland Oregonian
 
“Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian novel deserves a place on the shelf beside 1984  and Brave New World….The surprising and brilliant third novel from Russian-American satirist Shteyngart is actually two love stories… Shteyngart writes with an obvious affection for America — at its most chilling, Super Sad True Love Story comes across as a cri de coeur from an author scared for his country. The biggest risk for any dystopian novel with a political edge is that it can easily become humorless or didactic; Shteyngart deftly avoids this trap by employing his disarming and absurd sense of humor (much of which is unprintable here). Combined with the near-future setting, the effect is a novel more immediate — and thus more frightening, at least for contemporary readers — than similarly themed books by Orwell, Huxley and Atwood.”
—NPR, Books We Like
 
“This summer’s literary crown prince.”
—New York Observer
 
“Hilarious and unsettling… the man can write a stellar sentence.”
—Dallas Morning News
 
“Gary Shteyngart has a wicked penchant for steering his hapless characters into absurd situations, then letting real-life global forces roll over them. But his wild, exuberant wit and deadly accurate satire have made the Russian émigré one of the most acclaimed, enjoyable — and unsettling — novelists working today…His imagination is either warped or prophetic; you choose. But his writing is brilliant. Somehow, amid all this, he creates vulnerable, sympathetic characters whose foibles and blunderings toward one another we recognize as universal: super sad and true.”
—Seattle Times
 
“Threads of narrative and brilliant motifs accumulate with apparent effortlessness and the narrative tone remains matter-of-fact and understated. He has gained a lot of praise for his first two novels, and yes, he does remind me of Nikolai Gogol and Evelyn Waugh both at the same time…Super Sad True Love Story is about as amusing and harrowing a reflection upon the world we live in now and the direction we could be heading as you can hope to find.”
Jane Smiley,Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“Dystopic, mournfully funny…The classics of fiction-as-social-forecast – and the fact that Shteyngart’s is one doesn’t make it any less funny – share a crucial characteristic: depressing familiarity.”
—Newsday
 
“A slit-your-wrist satire illuminated by the author’s absurd wit…Shteyngart’s most trenchant satire depicts the inane, hyper-sexualized culture that connects everybody even while destroying any actual community or intimacy. This may be the only time I’ve wanted to stand up on the subway and read passages of a book out loud.”
—Washington Post
 
“A bipartisan satirist who makes us simultaneously laugh and wince at our monstrous vanities…Zaniness and tragedy are conjoined in his ambitious, uninhibited imagination. No subject is too serious to crack a joke about. But he is not being perverse or disrespectful; like all great satirists, he builds fun house mirrors that expose the distortions of contemporary reality…Shteyngart is one of the most powerful voices of his generation.”
—Miami Herald
 
“Uproarious.”
—Santa Cruz Sentinel
 
“A spectacularly clever near-future dystopian satire… What gives this novel its unusual richness is that undercurrent of sorrow.”
—Slate
 
“This moving tale in futuristic New York is a fabulously sad romance… It’s hilarious, and it’s sad - a poignant moment that gets at the heart of both the girl and the society.”
—St. Louis Post Dispatch
 
“These inventions are indicative of the book’s pleasure, which is simply its effluence from a mind as smart, loony and darkly prophetic as Mr Shteyngart’s. “I don’t know how to read anymore,” he said in his interview with Deborah Solomon. Thankfully his fans still do.”
—The Economist, More Intelligent Life
 
“His satire is appallingly funny but never less than personal, a tour de force of ridiculous appropriation and conflation.”
—Boston Globe
 
“An ingenious satire of America in decline: a nation obsessed with life extension and homeland security, betrayed by technology and utterly trivialized.”
—L.A. Times summer preview
 
“Here’s a big tip of the hat to Gary Shteyngart for having the nerve to write a novel-length staire…he’s shrewd, observant, snarkily funny.”
—Newsweek
 
“You think the country’s a mess now? Just wait until you read about the unnerving near-future envisioned by the hilarious Gary Shteyngart in his satiric new novel Super Sad True Love Story, a 1984 for the cybertastic millennium….Super Sad True Love Story shows why Shteyngart was named one of New Yorker's trendy “20 Under 40” writers; he’s a genius with parody.”
—Miami Herald
 
“Not since mid-’70s Woody Allen has anyone cracked so wise and so well. Who but Shteyngart recognizes the twin importance of skillful oral sex and a currency pegged to the Chinese yuan? Nobody.”
—Esquire
 
“Shteyngart evokes America in a digitized post-literate age in Super Sad True Love Story, an Orwell-on-acid vision of a very near future in which life is streamed rather than lived, but romance,in all its perilous, old-fashioned wonderment, endures.”
—Vogue
 
“Pity Lenny Abramov, the sad and hilarious human being at the center of Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart's hilarious and sad new novel…[an] all-too-plausible dystopia, where privacy of any sort is a thing of the past…both frightening and devastatingly funny.”
—L.A. Times
 
“The sheer exhilaration of the writing in this book ... is itself a sort of answer to the flattened-out horrors of the world it depicts.”
—New York Times Book Review
 
“Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story tries to be many things—tragicomic 1984 update, poignant May-December romance per the title, heartfelt tribute to the nostalgic joys of plain ol' books—and succeeds at most of them. But primarily, it’s the finest piece of anti-iPhone propaganda ever written, a cautionary tale full of distracted drones unwilling to tear themselves away from their little glowing screens long enough to make eye contact, let alone an actual lasting connection, with another human being. It’s super sad ‘cause it’s true, but that also makes it hilarious.”
—Village Voice
 
“Hilarious and unsettling.”
—Fort Worth Star Telegram
 
“I can’t remember the last time a book so often made me laugh out loud and scared the hell out of me - sometimes on the same page. But Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, the aptly titled Super Sad True Love Story, accomplishes an even rarer feat: It’s a slashing satire with a warm heart…Shteyngart makes it all disturbingly convincing. Both satire and speculative fiction tend to be chilly forms; he displays a mastery of them in Super Sad Love Story yet never lets the tragic, wholly human bond between its lovers seem less than real.”
—St Petersburg Times
 
 
“Shteyngart’s world, evoked in painstaking and ingenious detail, feels close enough to touch - a nightmare we've already started to live and from which we can’t seem to wake up…Shteyngart has always been able to see the humor in a half-cocked world as it slides toward madness. But true to his Russian origins and this novel's title, there is something unbearably sad about even his broadest and most savage satire.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
 
“No surprise that it’s hilarious, but it’s also as finger-waggingly disapproving a vision of the technologically addicted, oversexed, dumbed-down world we inhabit as I’ve ever read.”
—The Forward
 
“The surprising and brilliant third novel from Russian-American satirist Shteyngart is actually two love stories — and while they're both, as promised, super sad, they're also incredibly (but very darkly) funny.”
—NPR “Books We Like”
 
“if Gary Shteyngart is any indication, fiction will continue to be the place where authors ponder the survival of most everything else that matters…These inventions are indicative of the book's pleasure, which is simply its effluence from a mind as smart, loony and darkly prophetic as Mr Shteyngart’s.
 
“[A] profane and dizzying satire, a dystopic vision of the future as convincing-and, in its way, as frightening as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s also a pointedly old-fashioned May-December love story. . . .  a heartbreaker worthy of its title, this is Shteyngart’s best yet.” 
Publishers Weekly, starred review «
 
“Full-tilt and fulminating satirist Shteyngart (Absurdistan, 2006) is mordant, gleeful, and embracive as he funnels today’s follies and atrocities into a devilishly hilarious, soul-shriveling, and all-too plausible vision of a ruthless and crass digital dystopia in which techno-addled humans are still humbled by love and death.”
Booklist, starred review «
 
“This cyber-apocalyptic vision of an American future seems eerily like the present, in a bleak comedy that is even more frightening than funny. Though Shteyngart received rave reviews for his first two novels (The Russian Debutante’s Daughter, 2001; Absurdistan, 2006), those appear in retrospect to be trial runs for his third and darkest to date.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Ron Charles
…a slit-your-wrist satire illuminated by [Shteyngart's] absurd wit…This zany Russian immigrant loops the comedy of Woody Allen's "Sleeper" through the grim insights of George Orwell's 1984 to produce a "Super Sad True Love Story" that exposes the moral bankruptcy of our techno-lust…But what pulls on our affections and keeps the satire from growing too brittle is Lenny's earnest voice as he struggles to fit into a world that clearly has no more use for him.
—The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
Gary Shteyngart's wonderful new novel…is a supersad, superfunny, superaffecting performance—a book that not only showcases the ebullient satiric gifts he demonstrated in his entertaining 2002 debut, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, but that also uncovers his abilities to write deeply and movingly about love and loss and mortality…In recounting the story of Lenny and Eunice in his antic, supercaffeinated prose, Mr. Shteyngart gives us his most powerful and heartfelt novel yet—a novel that performs the delightful feat of mashing up an apocalyptic satire with a genuine supersad true love story.
—The New York Times
Michael Wood
…the writing is never less than stylish and witty, and the sense of disaster, here as in Shteyngart's other novels, is unfailingly lyrical, performed for full, funny rhetorical orchestra…The sheer exhilaration of the writing in this book—Lenny's confessional tones, Eunice's teenage slang—is itself a sort of answer to the flattened-out horrors of the world it depicts. It's not that writing of any kind will save us from our follies or our rulers; but words are a form of life, and we can't say we haven't been warned.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
In a near-future America that teeters even more desperately on the financial and political brink than it does today, aging 39-year-old Lenny Abramov and alluring 24-year-old Eunice Park build a doomed relationship on a shared need for emotional, physical, and financial security. Adam Grupper perfectly embodies Lenny, a socially awkward intellectual in a world that has no more use for books or philosophy, a man radiating a hunger for love and acceptance. Ali Ahn does well as Eunice, a shopping-obsessed young woman who allows her poor self-esteem issues to rule what could be a generous heart. Both readers also provide vivid portraits of supplementary characters; Ahn particularly shines as Eunice’s mother. A Random hardcover (Reviews, May 3). (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
This cyber-apocalyptic vision of an American future seems eerily like the present, in a bleak comedy that is even more frightening than funny. Though Shteyngart received rave reviews for his first two novels (The Russian Debutante's Daughter, 2001; Absurdistan, 2006), those appear in retrospect to be trial runs for his third and darkest to date. Russian immigrant Lenny Abramov returns home to Manhattan of the indeterminate future, following a year in Italy, only to find his career as "Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator (Grade G) of the Post-Human Services division" in jeopardy. Just shy of 40, he is already coming to terms with his mortality amid the scorn of much younger, hipper careerists, as he markets eternal life to those with the wherewithal to afford it. The narrative alternates between the diary entries of Lenny and the computer log of Eunice Park, his much younger and reluctant Korean girlfriend whom he'd met in Italy and eventually persuaded to join him in the States. Lenny's diary is itself an anachronism, since this "post-literate age" lacks the patience to scan text for anything longer than political bromides or marketing pitches. The society at large finds books "smelly," though Lenny still collects and even reads them. "Media" has become an adjective (positive, all-purpose) as well as a noun, and some familiar institutions have morphed into Fox-Ultra and The New York Lifestyle Times. Both Lenny and Eunice are fully fleshed-out characters rather than satiric caricatures, but their matter-of-fact acceptance of Bi-Partisanship masking a police state, and of the illiterate, ebullient and Orwellian American Restoration Authority as a bulwark against the country's collapse (the waiting list to move to Canada exceeds 23 million), makes this cautionary tale all the more chilling. The narrative proceeds in a surprising yet inevitable manner to the outcome the title promises. When Lenny realizes "I can't connect in any meaningful way to anyone," he's writing about not merely a technological breakdown but the human condition, where the line distinguishing comedy from tragedy dissolves.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Gary Shteyngart is worried about the future. He is worried about the failure of democracy, about the degradation of language, and about our increasing enslavement to technology. He is worried about money. He is worried about death. For anybody who has read his earlier novels The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan, this state of heightened anxiety probably won't come as a surprise. Shteyngart writes in an ironic register that, for all its antic humor, belongs to the long tradition of Russian melancholia. It's fitting that with his new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart has devoted himself more fully to his adopted homeland than in either of his previous books. He tends to traffic in provincial nations staving off collapse, and here that role falls to the United States. Lenny Abramov, our hero, is a weak-willed, first-generation American, the son of Russian immigrants with an unwavering faith in their new motherland despite its increasing resemblance to the authoritarian oligarchy they left behind.

Shteyngart specializes in places slightly askance of the real -- the Prague-like Prava of his debut, the hapless post-Soviet state of Absurdistan. This time we are in New York, but a New York some untold years hence, an amped-up version of today's city. Wall Street has consolidated into a small handful of corporate monoliths like LandO'LakesGMFordCredit; America's ruling Bipartisan Party, mired in debt to China, enforces its power with Halliburton-like military contractors; books, now antique objects, draw distaste less for their highfalutin obscurity than for their peculiar smell; and all aspects of life are governed by all-knowing äppäräti. (Think fancier iPhone, but with exponentially higher power and needless umlauts.) The details of Shteyngart's futuristic universe are at once overwhelming and disconcertingly familiar. For better or worse, it's not all that hard to imagine.

Perhaps to offset the descriptive overdrive of Shteyngart's dystopian vision, Super Sad True Love Story traces the classical arc promised by its title. Narrated in alternating chapters by Lenny and Eunice Park -- Lenny's in diary entries that fall somewhere between retro and archaic, Eunice's via an online social network called GlobalTeens that makes Facebook look as benign and well-meaning as the milkman -- the novel follows the flowering of their unlikely romance. Lenny, on the brink of forty, works for a company that promises eternal life to "High Net Worth Individuals"; Eunice, some fifteen years his junior, is a full-fledged citizen of the new world order. She speaks in acronyms and scrolls through her äppärät for deals on sheer pop-off panties.

As our Virgilian guide to this hyper-modern future, Lenny has too much information to relay to sound authentic -- at least at first. As in his previous work, Shteyngart has trouble knowing when to stop; not every detail of New York in 2030, or whenever it is, needs its moment before the lens for us to understand how this civilization bears up against our present. His failure to filter leaves some jokes that are too easy: a gentrified Staten Island is imaginative, a channel called FoxLiberty-Ultra virtually a given. An old soul wide-eyed at the world he has inherited, Lenny maintains a naïveté that allows Shteyngart to set his stage. Even his friends treat him like a relic, as when one explains the elaborate art of picking up women: "The personality score depends on how 'extro' she is…Check it out. This girl done got three thousand-plus Images, eight hundred streams, and a long multimedia thing on how her father abused her. Your äppärät runs that against the stuff you've downloaded about yourself and then it comes up with a score. Like, you've dated a lot of abused girls, so it knows you're into that shit." It's a narrative convenience, how little Lenny takes for granted.

Shteyngart paints his scenery vividly, but it's the smaller moments that jolt. A lover's "muscles stirring somewhere deep beneath her skin like phantom gears." Eunice taking up a book for the first time, "massaging the book's back, maybe even enjoying its thickness and unusual weight, its relative quiet and meekness." An elephant in the zoo "slowly flick[ing] back one massive ear, like a Galician shopkeeper of a century ago spreading his arms as if to say, 'Yes, this is all there is.'" Shteyngart's eye for the lingering humanity within this sterile world of media and machines is what makes the excessive exposition worth working through, and why his entry into the crowded field of dystopian fiction ranks several cuts above. The novel's transition from knee-jerk satire to something deeper is almost imperceptibly subtle. I first noticed it almost 150 pages in, when Eunice describes a man as "actually quite handsome, tall and Germanic looking." It's a small detail, but "Germanic" is not an adjective I expected from a character whose first words in the novel were "What's up, twat? Missing your 'tard?'"

Eunice, whose chapters initially seem a facile case study in the numbing effects of technology, gradually emerges as the first genuinely complicated female character Shteyngart has written. The child of an abusive Korean immigrant father and zealously religious mother, Eunice is somebody for whom the diversions of the modern world provide useful, even necessary, cover. Shteyngart's patience in letting her character slowly crystallize is his most remarkable feat. The awakening of her consciousness owes itself, at least in part, to Lenny, a man-child in the vein of Shteyngart's earlier protagonists. For all his anachronism -- or more likely, because of his anachronism -- Lenny is able to provide Eunice with an unquestioning love that re-humanizes her. In the wake of the sudden collapse of the Bipartisan government, a murky political event called "The Rupture" that kills one of Lenny's best friends, Lenny suddenly realizes the extent of her metamorphosis:

She wailed from a place so deep that I could only connect it with somewhere across the seas, and from a time when our nations were barely formed. For the first time since we've met, I realized that Eunice Park, unlike others of her generation, was not completely ahistorical.

In the end, Shteyngart is proven right: we, as readers, need Lenny's nostalgia, and it turns out Eunice does too. His sense of past, and the sense of past he imparts to her, are what give the novel its stakes -- otherwise, the future wouldn't look so terrifying.

The quiet care with which Shteyngart lets his story build on its own terms is what makes it so frustrating when he ends on a cheap note. The novel concludes with an epilogue by Lenny to what turns out to be the published version of his diaries, interspersed with Eunice's correspondence. We have been reading a curated version of their past. (Why books are suddenly fashionable again is not addressed.) "Since the first edition of my diaries and Eunice's messages was published in Beijing and New York two years ago, I have been accused of writing my passages with the hope of eventual publication, while even less kind souls have accused me of slavish emulation of the final generation of American 'literary' writers," Lenny reflects. The reality is, Shteyngart could stand in their company if he would allow himself, instead of giving in to his tendency to burden his novels with increasingly outlandish plots. So why the cop out? After writing what, for all its futurism, is essentially a tragedy in the classic mold, did Shteyngart feel he needed a gesture of deference to that most alluring of contemporary commodities -- hope? Or is he issuing an apologia for the minor flaws of his novel?

Nonetheless, Super Sad True Love Story is an achievement. The author manages at once to satirize the grotesqueries of our era, our hubris and our excess, while sustaining an intense pathos for the individuals forced to bear the fallout, as the best satires do. Shteyngart is a great writer, but only a very good novelist, and one hopes he will soon get the broad architecture of his novels to match the sophistication of the characters who populate them.

--Amelia Atlas

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812977868
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 78,861
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.73 (d)

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. His second novel, Absurdistan, was named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, as well as a best book of the year by Time, The Washington Post Book World, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. He has been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, and Travel + Leisure and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in New York City.

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.

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    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

Super Sad True Love Story

A Novel
By Gary Shteyngart

Random House Trade Paperbacks

Copyright © 2011 Gary Shteyngart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812977868

DO NOT GO GENTLE
FROM THE DIARIES OF LENNY ABRAMOV

june 1 
Rome–New York 

Dearest Diary,

 Today I’ve made a major decision: I am never going to die. Others will die around me. They will be nullified. Nothing of their personality will remain. The light switch will be turned off. Their lives, their entirety, will be marked by glossy marble headstones bearing false summations (“her star shone brightly,” “never to be forgotten,” “he liked jazz”), and then these too will be lost in a coastal flood or get hacked to pieces by some genetically modified future- turkey. 

Don’t let them tell you life’s a journey. A journey is when you end up somewhere. When I take the number 6 train to see my social worker, that’s a journey. When I beg the pilot of this rickety United- ContinentalDeltamerican plane currently trembling its way across the Atlantic to turn around and head straight back to Rome and into Eunice Park’s fickle arms, that’s a journey. 

But wait. There’s more, isn’t there? There’s our legacy. We don’t die because our progeny lives on! The ritual passing of the DNA, Mama’s corkscrew curls, his granddaddy’s lower lip, ah buh- lieve thuh chil’ren ah our future. I’m quoting here from “The Greatest Love of All,” by 1980s pop diva Whitney Houston, track nine of her eponymous first LP. 

Utter nonsense. The children are our future only in the most narrow, transitive sense. They are our future until they too perish. The song’s next line, “Teach them well and let them lead the way,” encourages an adult’s relinquishing of selfhood in favor of future generations. The phrase “I live for my kids,” for example, is tantamount to admitting that one will be dead shortly and that one’s life, for all practical purposes, is already over. “I’m gradually dying for my kids” would be more accurate. 

But what ah our chil’ren? Lovely and fresh in their youth; blind to mortality; rolling around, Eunice Park–like, in the tall grass with their alabaster legs; fawns, sweet fawns, all of them, gleaming in their dreamy plasticity, at one with the outwardly simple nature of their world. 

And then, a brief almost- century later: drooling on some poor Mexican nursemaid in an Arizona hospice. 

Nullified. Did you know that each peaceful, natural death at age eighty- one is a tragedy without compare? Every day people, individuals— Americans, if that makes it more urgent for you—fall facedown on the battlefield, never to get up again. Never to exist again. 

These are complex personalities, their cerebral cortexes shimmering with floating worlds, universes that would have floored our sheepherding, fig- eating, analog ancestors. These folks are minor deities, vessels of love, life- givers, unsung geniuses, gods of the forge getting up at six- fifteen in the morning to fire up the coffeemaker, mouthing silent prayers that they will live to see the next day and the one after that and then Sarah’s graduation and then . . . 

Nullified. 


But not me, dear diary. Lucky diary. Undeserving diary. From this day forward you will travel on the greatest adventure yet undertaken by a nervous, average man sixty- nine inches in height, 160 pounds in heft, with a slightly dangerous body mass index of 23.9. Why “from this day forward”? Because yesterday I met Eunice Park, and she will sustain me through forever. Take a long look at me, diary. What do you see? A slight man with a gray, sunken battleship of a face, curious wet eyes, a giant gleaming forehead on which a dozen cavemen could have painted something nice, a sickle of a nose perched atop a tiny puckered mouth, and from the back, a growing bald spot whose shape perfectly replicates the great state of Ohio, with its capital city, Columbus, marked by a deep- brown mole. Slight. Slightness is my curse in every sense. A so- so body in a world where only an incredible one will do. A body at the chronological age of thirty- nine already racked with too much LDL cholesterol, too much ACTH hormone, too much of everything that dooms the heart, sunders the liver, explodes all hope. A week ago, before Eunice gave me reason to live, you wouldn’t have noticed me, diary. A week ago, I did not exist. A week ago, at a restaurant in Turin, I approached a potential client, a classically attractive High Net Worth Individual. He looked up from his wintry bollito misto, looked right past me, looked back down at the boiled lovemaking of his seven meats and seven vegetable sauces, looked back up, looked right past me again—it is clear that for a member of upper society to even remotely notice me I must first fire a flaming arrow into a dancing moose or be kicked in the testicles by a head of state. 

And yet Lenny Abramov, your humble diarist, your small nonentity, will live forever. The technology is almost here. As the Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator (Grade G) of the Post- Human Services division of the Staatling- Wapachung Corporation, I will be the first to partake of it. I just have to be good and I have to believe in myself. I just have to stay off the trans fats and the hooch. I just have to drink plenty of green tea and alkalinized water and submit my genome to the right people. I will need to re- grow my melting liver, replace the entire circulatory system with “smart blood,” and find someplace safe and warm (but not too warm) to while away the angry seasons and the holocausts. And when the earth expires, as it surely must, I will leave it for a new earth, greener still but with fewer allergens; and in the flowering of my own intelligence some 1032 years hence, when our universe decides to fold in on itself, my personality will jump through a black hole and surf into a dimension of unthinkable wonders, where the things that sustained me on Earth 1.0—tortelli lucchese, pistachio ice cream, the early works of the Velvet Underground, smooth, tanned skin pulled over the soft Baroque architecture of twentysomething buttocks—will seem as laughable and infantile as building blocks, baby formula, a game of 

“Simon says do this.” 

That’s right: I am never going to die, caro diario. Never, never, never, never. And you can go to hell for doubting me. 


From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart Copyright © 2011 by Gary Shteyngart. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1.     What elements of Shteyngart’s dystopian near-future do you see in our contemporary world?

2.      In that same vein, do you feel that we really are in, or are headed for, a post-literate age? Have a media-saturated environment and short attention spans affected our ability to read and appreciate books?

3.      Lenny and Eunice come from two opposing cultures and have different ethnic backgrounds. While he is a ruminative book reader, hers is the generation of the instant and fleeting. For all their differences, why do you think Lenny and Eunice are drawn together? What do they share in common in terms of their personal history?

4.      After a trip home to Long Island, Lenny contemplates an existence that is “at the end of the busted rainbow, at the end of the day, at the end of the empire.” What does he mean by this? Do you feel that we are at the end of an era?  

5.      Lenny’s employer, Post Human Services, offers the promise of life extension for High Net Worth individuals. How do you think losing the assurance of death, a great equalizer, would affect the dynamic of society? If you had the option, would you seek out immortality?

6.      Super Sad True Love Story is an epistolary novel—one written as a series of documents. Discuss the how Shteyngart’s use of diary entries and digital exchanges impacted your reading experience.

7.      One target of Shteyngart’s satire is the value placed on youthfulness. Discuss how this preoccupation manifests itself in the novel—consider Eunice’s relationship with Lenny and Joshie, The Post Human Services, and representations of the elderly.

8.      Lenny has been described as a twentieth century man in a twenty-first century world. How, specifically, is he anachronistic to the “new” New York?

9.      Shteyngart includes elements of science fiction, romance, and dystopian fantasy.  How do you think each of these genres manifests itself in the novel?  Why is each important? 

10.  Super Sad True Love Story treads into dark territory—mortality, heartbreak, the demise of a culture—yet, as a satire, it relies heavily on humor for its social criticism. In your opinion, how important is humor in evaluating and responding to the world in which we live? 

11.  Though Super Sad True Love Story  is set in the (very near) future, there is a strong immigrant presence that also harkens back to the American past.  Discuss the portrayal and significance of immigrants in the novel.

12.  In the Super Sad universe, there is no such thing as a private detail. In our world, what do you feel are the benefits and pitfalls of social media? Where should we draw the line in terms of what we broadcast about our personal lives?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 332 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(86)

4 Star

(87)

3 Star

(80)

2 Star

(52)

1 Star

(27)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 334 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2012

    It made me sad

    It really did make me sad but not the way you would think. This is not your typical love story an i dont think it has very many happy endings. The picture of the world it creates is so realistic and so depressing, you cant help but go into a bit of self reflection once you're through.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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

    It is super sad, but super powerful too. An amazing picture of a

    It is super sad, but super powerful too. An amazing picture of a world that we could easily slide into (maybe we have already) and what it could do to us. I have to say I liked Absurdistan better, but when you write something that good, it's okay to not quite reach that height every time. Shteyngart might just be the best novelist writing today.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 8, 2011

    Another Shteyngart Success!

    Author Gary Shteyngart is adept at creating worlds with an absurd tilt -drawing the reader into an extrapolated vision of the near future which somehow manages to be simultaneously laugh out loud funny as well as a disturbing, dark indictment of the direction in which our culture is headed.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted November 3, 2012

    Good

    Good

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted September 15, 2012

    It will be true, and that's what's truly sad.

    It will be true, and that's what's truly sad.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    It made me super sad to read it

    because I super hated it! I did not find the book even remotely funny. The characters were completely unlikeable and if this is satire, I will give up on the entire genre. Nope, not for me. I was painful to finish but I did it as it was a book club selection.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted December 24, 2012

    Super sad true love story

    Best book ive ever read

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted November 18, 2012

    Amandas history

    Amanda grew up in a slave mill wich is like a puppy mill where they raise slaves then sell them she watched her mother be killed for trying to escape she was a hsppy child but when she aged ten she was auctioned off she grew up taught by the whip her last master was cruel and when he ws gone he would put a collar around her neck and tie her up like a dog with chains she grew up learning several phrases the cheeriness was whipped from her long ago

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted October 28, 2012

    Terrible

    Could not even finish this. Started out skeptical and gave it a try since it was a book club choice. It is very rare that I don't finish a book even if its not that good. This was with no redeeming quality and I stopped after about 100 pages

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted April 4, 2012

    Really witty look at what is and what might be

    Scary look at the people we've become and the path we're on. It's well, super sad, but morbidly funny.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted December 11, 2011

    Recommended

    I read a lot of reviews before buying this book and wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I enjoyed it, but understand why some people wouldn't. The love story is not what you'd expect, and the characters aren't the most developed or likable, but everything in the background to this story is what makes it different and enjoyable. This view of America is interesting, believable and somewhat frightening. But in the end I really enjoyed the book and would recommend reading it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted November 14, 2011

    Clever

    Really quite good. A very scary peek into what could be in our not so distant future. Still thinking about it months after reading. Very cool. Frightening in its potential realness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted February 3, 2014

    Guess

    I guess i havent but it looks good -advice giver

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted January 10, 2014

    Heyy i need some advice

    Heyy i havent read the book yet should i read it, is it worth it?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted November 23, 2013

    Angelkit

    Cries and curls up sadly.

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

    Posted August 18, 2013

    Eerily honest

    This is an uncomfortable read and the book is as uncharming as the future it reflects—yet the honesty and accuracy are undeniable. Fascinating, frustrating and sad. This is a reluctantly worthwhile read.

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

    Posted July 13, 2013

    Not Great

    Not entirely pleased with this novel, especially after reading so many positive reviews. The main problem for me was that the main character was annoying in his self pity and naivete.

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

    Posted June 22, 2013

    From angel

    Can someone lend this to me?

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted June 5, 2013

    CAT TO IMARI

    Bye ill miss u forever ill try to be on but ill probally be on once a week but im going to college all the way in london my home town looz ill miss u soooo much tell caitlin i said bye ok by daughter :)( (thats a happy and sad face at the same time) lolz ill miss u sooooooooo much wish me luck for college and if u ask what im gonna do with the baby well hes gonna be with my sister while im at college BYE IMARI I LOVE U FOR EVAS

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted May 29, 2013

    Serena

    Ok. Bye b her later or tomorrow

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 334 Customer Reviews

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