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?
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.62(w) x 11.08(h) x 1.23(d)|
About the Author
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.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:1972
Place of Birth:Leningrad, USSR
Education:B.A., Oberlin College, 1995
Read an Excerpt
DO NOT GO GENTLE
FROM THE DIARIES OF LENNY ABRAMOV
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 . . .
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.
What People are Saying About This
“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?”
“Shteyngart makes trenchant, often hilarious, observations about a fading empire.”
“With Shteyngart’s nutty knack for tangy language, it’s as if Vladimir Nabokov rewrote 1984.”
“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.”
“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).”
“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.”
“As illuminating, as gut-busting, and as purely entertaining as any piece of literature will be this year.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
—Santa Cruz Sentinel
“A spectacularly clever near-future dystopian satire… What gives this novel its unusual richness is that undercurrent of sorrow.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Scary look at the people we've become and the path we're on. It's well, super sad, but morbidly funny.
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.
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.
Shteyngart's dystopian satire is fun and engaging. At some points I would say it's ridiculous, too, but then I'd go back to the Internet and remember that it's simply one step removed from our current state. Were the novel more about this dystopia and less about the bland protagonists of the love story in the title, it would be much better. But the lovers are dull and their story is unengaging and predictable.
This romance/satire is set in a near future whose elements read like a catalog of America's worst domestic fears from the past decade or so: economic collapse, unemployment, progression from governmental security-mania to a full-blown police state, a complete lack of privacy, a near lack of literacy, social media gone mad, corporations gone mad, rampant militarism, shameful failure to Support Our Troops, problems with immigrants, problems for immigrants, political unrest, owing our souls to the Chinese, and, of course, the ever-present, neurosis-inducing possibility of each of us growing old and fat.I have terribly mixed feelings about this book. On the negative side -- and it's a pretty hard-to-ignore negative -- are the main characters, Lenny and Eunice. She's shallow, he's a born loser, and their love story is less "super sad" and more just plain pathetic, based as it is almost entirely on mutual neediness and low self-esteem. I know complaining about this may seem like missing the point, as I'm sure we're meant to identify with their human weaknesses and to long for them to grow to the point where they're capable of something more mature. But that's a bit difficult when when you find yourself actively disinclined to extend the characters any sympathy. This really shouldn't have happened, as Lenny, at least, is a character I ought to be able to relate to. He's a bookish, thoughtful person in a world where those things aren't valued, and that's a pretty good description of my life back in junior high. Unfortunately, though, when we first meet him, he's cultivating a creepy, vaguely stalkerish obsession with Eunice in the wake of a tawdry and unsatisfying one-night stand, making a conscious and concentrated effort to refocus his entire life around a self-serving fantasy version of a woman he barely knows. Then he badgers her to come to him, despite her obvious lack of interest, until she finally gives in just because she needs a place to stay. And, yeah... I don't care how common this sort of thing is in literature, for me it's disturbing and unpleasant in a way that there's just really no recovering from. Ever. It doesn't matter how much Shteyngart later tries to portray Lenny as really rather romantic and sweet, in his own dorkish way. As far as I'm concerned it falls on deaf ears, and any possible connection or empathy I might have felt for the guy is dead before it's begun.Remarkably enough, though, Shteyngart actually makes a pretty good run at writing a book I'm capable of truly enjoying despite my principled distaste for the main characters. From the very first page, I was delighted by the liveliness and intelligence of the writing and impressed by the deftness of the satire, which manages to blend a little bit of the pleasantly ridiculous with a whole lot of the frighteningly plausible. The novel almost managed to support itself on the strength of that alone for about a hundred pages or so, but, alas, eventually it reached the point where the freshness started to wear off and I began to feel impatient with it. It did get better towards the end, when the plot gains some unexpected heft, but sadly it never did quite recapture that initial charm. Which is somewhat frustrating, because I can easily imagine a version of this story that I would have loved unreservedly.
The portrait of society is compelling and disturbing; the plot is interesting; the characters (especially Lenny) are just a little too seedy to rank a higher rating. Still, the book will stay with me longer than many others because of the strength of the ideas.
I liked the idea a lot: the contrast between a literate, neurotic and introverted geek, and a post-literate image-obsessed digital native is definitely relevant to the moment. And there are parts--when Lenny seems to realize his obsolescence, or when Eunice catches a hint of her inadequacy--that are genuinely moving. But there's also a lot of window dressing, with details drawn in that don't seem to do much, story-wise. It's a simple story, really. The satire is built into the characters and the setting; extended comic riffs only serve to distract, like the class clown going for yuks in the back row. Does this reflect Shteyngart's lack of confidence in his material? Is it an attempt to play to the peanut gallery, to give them broad humor in case they don't get the satire? Whatever the cause, I would have liked this book a lot better if it didn't try so hard. In this, Shteyngart could take advice from that other near-future satirist, Douglas Coupland. Coupland's characters aren't clowns; they're just folks. Comedy, for me at least, is best when it's not laughing at its own jokes.
A dystopia set in the near future. Very thought-provoking.
This is a very funny story taking place in the somewhat near future. Lenny Abramov is the Jewish child of Russian immigrants. He works in the Post-Human Services division of a major corporation, selling eternal life to High Net Worth Individuals who pass the eligibility criteria. A scientific process has been developed to allow people to live forever. Lenny is in Italy at the beginning of the story, but about to return to his home in New York. He meets Eunice Park, a recent college grad 15 years his junior, whose parents are Korean immigrants, and he immediately falls desperately in love with her. She is not really interested at first (and for quite a while after), finding him somewhat disgusting really, but they have a brief liaison. He keeps in touch by email after he is back in NYC, and she eventually moves in with him when she returns home because of family issues and has no where else to stay. But she eventually does have real love for him. Of course, the title gives the end away somewhat, at least for their relationship.This is a satire on our society's present state, skewering its focus on youth and attractiveness and on being connected. In this future, everyone is constantly connected electronically, through their äppäräti. America is on the decline and at war with Venezuela. China is ascendant.
Although the book¿s pop tone and frequent raunch culture references gives the impression that Shteyngart¿s work lacks the seriousness of dystopian classics like Brave New World or Fahrenheit 491, that impression fades near the book¿s midpoint as the reader realizes that the author¿s insights into our technological and cultural trajectories are accurate enough to make you believe that the word ¿true¿ belongs in the title. The narrative¿s power comes primarily from the characters and their interaction with their world. Shteyngart creates a world where people interact with technology much the same why we do today, the only difference is in his world people don¿t feel ashamed by interacting with others through their digital devices. It¿s the culture¿s lack of shame¿for it is a culture which was breed on the notion that our ID¿s desires should not be hidden, but rather broadcasted--that seems the only distinction between the Super Sad America and our own. It is also, I believe, Shteyngart¿s justification for the vulgarity and pervasive sexuality, one that, in the end, I can¿t argue with given the truth of it all.The truth is on display in nearly every word, especially in the sections composed by the young heroine. I found myself adopting the vocabulary of the book not only in my internal monologue but in my speech. Again, Shteyngart anticipates what hip and efficient world that is to come by creating vocabulary which could be well utilized in our world, if only our shame didn¿t prevent us from being so blunt.The primacy given to relationships and the importance of physical place function as a phenomenal critique of our Gnostic world, which, in the end, doesn¿t bring the reader to a redemptive place, but to be fair, it never claims to be anything but a sad story. The only significant criticism I have of the work is its epilogue. Part two of this section was particularly offensive--like having DaVinci writing analysis of the Mona Lisa on the work¿s canvas. (I apologize, that last metaphor is horribly obtuse, and certainly unworthy in a review of writing that is so unlike that.)
The time is the near future, as in possibly next week. Lenny Abramov, a thirty-nine year-old New Yorker and the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is balding and visibly going grey, neither short nor tall at five foot nine, and going soft around the middle. He's a salesman for Post-Human Services, a company which offers miraculous rejuvenation treatments and eternal life to HNWIs (high net worth individuals) and is obsessed with the fact that he can't afford the treatments for himself. America is now a police state and bankrupt, with the devaluated dollar pegged to the Chinese yuan. The only thing more important than being young and beautiful in this society is having a good line of credit, being an active consumer and being plugged into the latest model äppärät at all times. A futuristic smart-phone-like device which, presumably to reflect how much room it takes in people's lives, also takes lots of room in the novel, the äppärät allows strangers to view each others personal information and history, including the all-important credit ranking, places of study, employment and residence, sexual preferences, and desirability score, actually referred to as 'f***ability score', in keeping with the general unsubtle attitude toward sex in this society. To wit, the latest fashions include nipple-less bras and 'onionskin jeans' which leave nothing to the imagination. The only thing that Lenny loves more than his 740 square-feet condo in downtown Manhattan and its wall of books¿now out of print since nobody reads anymore¿is Eunice Parks, a beautiful, slender, superficial and cruel twenty-four year-old Korean girl. Undeterred by the continuous jibes she throws his way about being a nerd and an unattractive loser, our sweet-natured Lenny is convinced that he can help Eunice become a kinder and gentler person simply by loving her with everything he's got. The book is told from their individual point of view, with Lenny's diary entries alternating with transcripts of Eunice's personal incoming and outgoing communications with her mother and sister, and also her best friend, whom she affectionately calls names most appropriately used in porno-speak, which is apparently the way all young people communicate with each other in a society where pornography has been completely assimilated into the mainstream. Things become dangerous when bands of LNWI (low net worth individuals) try to mount an uprising and are violently quashed by the national guard and the whole country enters in a state of emergency. I'm having a hard time deciding what I thought about this book. There's no question that it was entertaining. No question either that it was disturbing, as it was intended to be, with Shteyngart describing a future which is not that far removed from the realm of likely possibilities. It was slow going as far as the reading of it went, in large part because of the language used, with countless expressions and acronyms that are a common mode of communication in a visuals-driven society where 'talking' is now referred to as 'verballing'. This book was given to me as a Christmas present along with a gift receipt in case I didn't find it to be quite my thing, and take this as you will, but I've decided to take advantage of the store's generous no-questions-asked return policy and exchange it for something that I'm likely to find ultimately more satisfying. I was going to give a lower rating, but gave this book three stars in the end because of the sheer entertainment factor.
This book may be the Brave New World and/or Fahrenheit 451 of our generation. Initially, I had a little trouble getting into the plot and digesting the author's use of e-mail-like transmissions between characters and their jargon, but once I adjusted to the frightening glimpse of the future new world Mr. Shteyngart creates I found myself hooked. The setting is New York City presumbably in the not-to-distant future. The U.S. is falling apart, having just fought and lost a war in Venezula. The dollar is worthless, replaced by the Chinese Yuan. Rogue elements of the National Guard roam the streets and compete with armed personnel from corporations, and the country is ruled by the ill-defined Bipartisan Party. Talking is passe, as people communicate via I-Pod like devices called apparati. Poles are erected everywhere that transmit people's credit scores as they walk by. As the love story between Lenny and Eunice evolves, the city and nation gradually disintegrate in ways not too difficult to imagine given our current state of affairs. I rate this five stars on cleverness and originality alone.
As much as I loved "Absurdistan (I gave it all five stars!) and having listened to a wonderful interview about this new novel on "Fresh Air" (the premise of the book seemed very promising), I was dismayed to see that a writer as talented as Mr. Shteyngart, a MASTER OF CLEVER AND WITTY SATIRE, would resort to crude and tawdry description of certain episodes of intimacy. I just couldn't go on reading.... truly a "sad story" for me.
Lenny Abramov falls in love with Eunice Park one night in Rome at the end of a long vacation/work trip. He convinces her to come back to US and stay with him in NYC. Their romance buds as the political landscape becomes more volatile. In the end Lenny loses his love of his life. Super Sad True Love Story is set in the future where everyone is addicted to this handheld device called apparat. This device shares information about the owner and other people and allows folks to rate themselves real-time. The book goes between diary entries of Lenny and GlobalTeen (like Facebook) messages from Eunice's account. The author clearly has opinions about how technology and public opinion influence our daily lives. I'm not sure I understood all the pretexts and found the book to be overall strange.
Super sad, super satirical¿it¿s just SUPER!At one point when I was reading this disturbing satirical look at a possible American future, I just thought, ¿Wait! How did we get there from here? How did we get from the America I know to a totalitarian nation on the verge of financial and political collapse?¿ And in the next moment, unbidden, I thought, ¿It¿s a totally logical projection.¿Gary Shteyngart¿s Super Sad True Love Story is provoking some strong responses. It¿s polarizing. It¿s disturbing. It IS funny, but you know how humor is, so subjective. What I find uproarious, you¿ll find imbecilic. As a great man said, ¿So it goes.¿ Perhaps one of the reasons the novel is so provocative is that despite the absurd humor and the extremity of Shteyngart¿s vision, his satirical eye is dead on. He¿s got us pegged.As for the plot, it¿s an epistolary novel, a romance related from the pages of Lenny Abramov¿s diary and Eunice Park¿s emails and instant messages. Poor, sweet, neurotic Lenny. He¿ll never be the best looking guy in the room, but he has other redeeming qualities. He¿s kind, sincere, loving, fiscally responsible, a reader and a thinker. Unfortunately, 39-year-old Lenny lives in an aggressively vulgar and illiterate culture that is obsessed with youth, beauty, and consumerism. The object of his affection is the much younger, much hotter Eunice. It¿s an unlikely match, but I was actually touched as the relationship progressed, all the while fearing for Lenny¿s tender heart.There is so much I could write about this novel! The fact that Lenny works in the indefinite life preservation industry, based on the idea that if you¿re rich enough you never have to die. His boss, Joshie Goldman, is a post-adolescent septuagenarian. The fact that LNWI (Low Net Worth Individuals) have formed a tent city in Central Park, and there are armed National Guardsmen all over the New York. The very idea of privacy is essentially a thing of the past. Everyone wears a device that simultaneously connects them online and broadcasts the most intimate details of their lives, and people¿lliterally¿feel they can¿t live without the constant stream of data. The dystopian near future that Shteyngart has created is so rich and fully realized and so worthy of contemplation and discussion. I can barely touch on the ideas he explores in a few paragraphs. It is worth mentioning just how strong his writing is as well. Even in the midst of the tortured language used by his characters, I found his prose to be a joy to read. There were interesting subtleties to the end of the novel, and I¿m not completely sure I understood everything. Rather than weaken the ending, I find this to be a strength. I¿ll be pondering Eunice¿s decisions for some time, and look forward to discussing the end with friends. Yeah, this one¿s going to stick with me for a while.
Shteyngart is clever and articulate and this novel is a very satisfying read. There are passages so beautiful that you keep going back to them, passages that especially contrast with all the exposition chat and emails that punctuate the book. The sad and scary future that Shteyngart has many of our current obsessions (shopping, handhelds, social media, borrowing) culminate in, is fascinating and believable. The love interest at the center though, Eunice Park, is a character so flat and uninteresting that it is impossible to feel Lenny's attraction to her. But that is okay - if I thought about it long enough I would probably understand why Shteyngart has Lenny investing himself so deeply in waters so shallow.
My five star rating is the average of six stars for sheer inventiveness of a world and exuberance of language. And four stars for the ability to sustain it over the course of a novel.Super Sad True Love Story is set about 50 years in the future. The world is a super extreme version of aspects of ours. American has been reduced to three industries (Credit -- where men aspire to work, Retail -- where women aspire to work, and Media -- which is largely individuals live streaming their lives). Everyone carries around an iPhone-like device and spends most of their time social networking, ranking each other, shopping on line, etc. Occasionally they take a break from this to "verbal" with a friend. America lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis as corporations, foreign governments, and sovereign wealth funds all swoop in to take over. And the super-rich are becoming "post-humans" thanks to life extending treatments that promise immortality.Set against this backdrop, the novel tells a love story in chapters that alternate between Lenny Abramov, a schlubby Jewish intellectual aspiring to immortality, and emails and chats from his much younger Korean girlfriend, Eunice Park. Both narrators are somewhat unreliable and the story moves along reasonably well, as the world around them disintegrates and a predictable triangle in their relationship appears.The writing is hilarious and amazingly inventive, but has diminishing returns -- although never turning negative. And the plot is a decent enough scaffolding and keeps you interested from beginning to end. Overall, one of the best books of the year.
I had really high hopes for this novel. The fusion of love story and near-future satire held appeal, and the lure of positive media reviews pulled me in. While I appreciated Shteyngart's satirical vision of a United States whose extended credit and Internet-bred illiteracy cause it to degenerate into an unstable police state at the financial mercy of the Chinese, the love story between Lenny Abramov and and Eunice Park proved somewhat plotless, unconvincing and unsatisfying. I got the whole connection the author drew between their Russian and Korean immigrant families, and the common familial work ethic pressuring them to realize the fleeting American dream, but the love connection seemed little more than a contrived set-up for inevitable disappointment. The plot, too, was underwhelming, as Sheteyngart seemed content riffing on the absurd trends of the media-driven day, like the ubiquitous credit poles that constantly display citizens' credit ratings as a measure of their value to society, rating everyone's hotness on the apparat devices that connect all citizens and provide access to vast amounts of personal data, and pursuing all forms of life-extension treatments to deny acknowledging one's mortality. Lenny's boss, the seventy-year-old Joshie Goldmann, a walking charicature of the life-extension obsession, worked as a super-father figure and ultimate romantic foil, but the conflict generated by Joshie and the collapse of the American economy failed to propel the plot forward with sufficient force. The ending, in its attempt to portray a novel based on Lenny's diary entries and Eunice's e-mail correspondence as the savior of traditional literary values, also had a hollow ring to it. This is an imaginative author and hopefully his next novel will pay more heed to the dying literary qualities he seems to value.
just loved this unputdownable, ingenious, dystopian novel-- It's the near future-- citizens rarely "verbal" with one another, all prefer to text and stream and shop and rate(fuckability ratings for all are a fun way to pass the time at a bar!) and research on their apparats. Everyone's credit rating flashes in public view--all are encouraged to shop and spend. Women are wearing see-through "onion skin" jeans and nippleless bras that they purchase from AssLuxury. And yet in the midst of this (foreseeable) hilarity, there is the sweetest character I've ever known in print. Lenny Abramov, 39-years old and nearing death, works for a cell-regeneration company that can guarantee immortality to the very rich and very highly credit ranked. (Sadly, he doesn't qualify) And Lenny falls in love. Oh, Lenny, Oh, Lenny, Oh, LennyI highly recommend Super Sad True Love Story. (I've decided on a half star deduction from the full 5 stars because certain aspects of the story like otters and details of finance left me a tad bewildered. But, this book warrants a second reading, so I'm sure I'll come away with a full understanding next time)
I recognize this as literature, but it wasn't to my taste. I found Shteyngart's view of where culture and internet is going to be a little too bleak, and not quite humanized enough. For the satire to hit home more strongly, I think that I needed to care more about the characters than I did. Still, it was quite funny at times, and well written throughout.
vulgar, weird, occasionally delightful, cautionary?
Some of the gags in this story about our dystopian near-future were slightly amusing. Otherwise, I couldn't have continued reading the 100 pages I did manage to finish before I gave up.