Friday, October 27, 2006

The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Gary Shteyngart, 2002

A Russian-born author and an immigrant character. Through his main character, Vladimir Girshkin, a twenty something Jewish immigrant in America, Shteyngart traverses the world of successful, Americanized professional immigrants (the hero's parents), the world of liberal New York academics (the hero's girlfriend and her parents), the Russian mafia in America and Eastern Europe, and the crowd of American expatriates in post-communist Prague with one purpose only -- to make fun of them. And he is very good at it! The witty monologue of his cynical hero is what holds the story together. The character's trajectory in itself is not very original but his commentary is hilarious. If I have to compare Jonathan Safran Foer's prose, another author who tries to capture the Russian idiom in English language, to Shteyngart's - I have to admit that the task of the latter was much harder - he captures the hilarious mutation of the Americanized Russian idiom mixed with the cliches of the Americans' notions of Russianness. And again - this was a winning approach.


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