Leave it to the great-great-grandson of Nikolai Gogol to concoct a novel at once riotous and melancholic, intimate and expansive, as it tracks the parallel arcs of personal and international events. Gary Shteyngart, the Russian immigrant whose debut novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and a National Jewish Book Award, sparkles in Absurdistan.

Misha Borisovich Vainberg, son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, has been coddled by his doting parents to the point where he tips the scales at 325 pounds. When it comes time for university, his father bundles him off to America to study at Accidental College . . . and to complete that little operation Jewish men generally undergo shortly after birth. The upside is that he earns his degree. The unfortunate part is that the bris doesn't quite go as scheduled, leaving the bulbous young man doubly unsuited for the American dating scene.

Surprisingly, he does find love, in the person of Rouenna, an American waitress of Puerto Rican, Irish, German and Mexican extraction, who isn't put off by either his figure or disfigurement. Alas, the words "happily ever after" are not part of the Russian canon, and Misha finds himself stranded in Russia, unable to re-enter the United States due to an act of violence his father committed against an American years ago. Meanwhile Rouenna is getting involved with a notorious cad, fiction professor Jerry Shteynfarb (sound familiar?). Misha heads to the newly independent republic of Absurdistan to secure a Belgian passport, which will allow him to return to New York.

The ensuing roller coaster ride follows Misha through civil war, government office, physical danger and his very real, but highly idiosyncratic, love affair with America in the final moments leading up to 9/11. Readers will root for Shteyngart's engaging protagonist, and enjoy the adventure found in this romp of a read.

 

 

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