eBook Review: Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan

After a lengthy deliberation on how to spend the $25 Amazon gift certificate my fiance gave me, I finally went with the Kindle edition of Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan for my first eBook purchase. My colleague, the Librarian in a Banana Suit, belongs to the local PBR Book Club, a self-proclaimed "group of scenesters who read pretentious tomes and other relevant hipster texts and gather infrequently to talk about them (drunkenly) over PBRs" who've chosen Shteyngart's book for their February read. I decided to check it out as well, but since both of my library's copies were unavailable, I went with said purchase. I just scrolled through the final pages last night, and I have to say I found it entertaining.

The last, and only other, title I read by Shteyngart was his Super Sad True Love Story, which I gave a brief review of in my "Favorite Things" post back in December. I found Absurdistan, published four years prior, a grungier read than Shteyngart's later title. Graphic sexual encounters, depictions of violence, and a lot of crude, sexual language might deter some readers. And then there's the few instances of disgustingly descriptive imagery of the main character's khui, which was mutilated in a post-adolescent circumcision hack job. Misha Vainberg, the narrator and character in question, was forced in to the operation by his father, who tried to instill in him a bit of pride for his Jewish heritage. Further in to the reading, I thought of it as a physical manifestation of the mutilation of Misha's masculinity by his father, with whom Misha had a physical relationship as a child (something he often alludes to throughout the novel) and under whose shadow Misha constantly lives.

We meet Misha--rich, arrogant and overweight--after the assassination of his father, a successful criminal in post-Soviet Russia. Having spent the past 12 years in the United States, studying at the liberal-arts Accidental College in the Midwest and then living it up in New York City, Misha finds himself back in Russia and stuck in St. Leninsburg. He wants to return to New York and the love of his life, Rouenna, who he met at a bar in South-Bronx, but because his father murdered a man from Oklahoma, the United States refuses to grant him a visa. After Misha receives a multi-million dollar under-the-table settlement from the mobster assassin who killed his father, he determines to return to the United States via the Republic of Absurdistan, a former Soviet state on the Caspian Sea, by obtaining a Belgian passport and moving to Brussels. However, things don't go according to plan for the 1,238th richest man in Russia.

To start, Misha's beloved Rouenna falls for and becomes impregnated by the despicable author, writing professor and former classmate of Misha's, Jerry Shteynfarb. Incapable of leaving the small republic, caught in the middle of a civil war between the local Sevos and Svanis, Misha gets involved with the daughter of an Absurdistani official who tries to convince him to marry into the family. However, he still dreams of finding a way back into the United States and returning to New York City. Though I found very little I could relate to with Misha--he's arrogant and pretty detestable--a part of me couldn't help feel sorry for him in his deteriorating situation, and I was interested in discovering how things turned out for him. So I'm pretty happy with my eBook purchase. For more thoughts on this title, I would encourage you to keep up with the PBR Book Club's blog at: http://pbrbookclub.blogspot.com