I was thinking it was fate that we chose to read this book, because as it happened I read a majority of it while I was in Saint Petersburg, Russia. However, it turned out that this was not really a book about my beloved Saint Petersburg. Nevertheless Shteyngart paints an honest if sneering picture.
“Now, it’s no secret that St. Petersburg is a backwater, lost in the
shadow of our craven capital, Moscow, which itself is but a third-world
megalopolis teetering on the edge of some spectacular extinction.”
Absurdistan fed the reader some gorgeous pearls of Russian experience like,
“I absolutely refuse to sleep with one of my co-nationals. God only knows where they’ve been.” And my personal favorite,““ It’s Monday,” Lyuba said. “I never get pregnant on a Monday.””
There’s no question that the author has a clever and poignant turn of phrase. Like a tourist, he runs past a subject taking a memorable snapshot. And like all tourists, the subject really isn’t the countries they visit, but the luggage they bring with them. Shteyngart seems to abandon a chance to say something more about the Russian soul than this:
“I’ve been to Europe. The streets are cleaner, but there’s no Russian soul.
Do you know what I’m talking about here? You can’t just sit down with a
man in Copenhagen and look him in the eye over a shot glass and
then-boof-you are brothers forever.”
For @bananasuit I will leave the obvious but necessary commentary on how each woman is portrayed as a glittering, money obsessed, sex octopus. That discussion I hope will address the protagonist’s “generalized fear of women”.
In spite of its charm and wit, Absurdistan seemed to me like a big wet kiss to Voltaire. What am I to learn from the revenge fantasy of a lovably despicable fat guy? Was there something about human weakness I didn’t already know? Was the reader to think that a superfluous man could find love without God? Will Jorge Garcia be cast as Misha in the film? I didn’t learn anything about love from Absurdistan that a tube of KY and some anal beads don’t know. Even though the social and political commentary is razor sharp, I never really felt like the author had anything more to tell the reader than a memorable story.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this book. If for no other reason than that Snack Daddy and I agree: “Let me tell you something: without good friends, you might as well drown yourself in Russia.”
“…and what is worst of all, our intelligent, depressive citizenry has been replaced by a new race of mutants dressed in studied imitation of the west…”