Absurdistan is an apt title for Gary Shteyngart's second novel--a deeply satirical work populated by absurd characters in unlikely situations. It takes several chapters to get over the wtf factor upon meeting the morbidly obese Jewish antihero Misha Vainberg, an alumus of Accidental College and Big Apple living, now trapped in his native St. Petersburg because INS officials deny him a return visa after his father, the 1,238th richest oligarch in Russia, killed a businessman from Oklahoma. Longing for the West, Misha leaves St. Petersburg after his father's murder in search of a EU passport by way of a corrupt diplomat in the fictional oil-rich Caspian nation of Absurdistan. Once there, Misha becomes embroiled in the civil war between the ethnic Swani and Sevos...
This book grows on you...like a barnacle. Misha's characterization is well done, as he grapples with his dead parents and stepping into his fathers shoes. If you are familiar with the Russian Jewish psyche and New York City, you might enjoy this satirical portrayal. However, Shteybgart is over-the-top with his aggressive self-conscious "I'm writing to be funny" and cue-the-audience's attention to issues modus operandi. It isn't so much social commentary rather than demanding points for bringing up the right references. In the end, I learned to like Misha--"a sophisticate and a melancholic"--after following his narration through so much absurdity, but Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemens Union ranks higher on my list of alternate reality geopolitical fare.
It's likely this book is not going to be to your taste unless you enjoy word play, satire that ranges from wry to slapstick, and absurdity. It's a literary book of sorts, and if you read only popular stuff (Dan Brown et al), you probably won't like it much. I'm not usually big on literary books myself, but I love complicated word play, cultural allusions, and political satire of all kinds, so I adored this book. Shteyngart's first book (Russian Debutante) isn't nearly as good as Absurdistan. A five star selection. The man has talent, even if he isn't everyone's shot of vodka.
I usually finish books, this man's writing style is boring and drawn out. I can't imagine the appeal. I tried to read the most recent story Russian Debutante's another yawner. Keep only for insomnia.
This book had some hilarious and great satirical moments. Loved the Russians calling Haliburton, "Golly Burton". Biting reminder of how big US corporations are in bed with mobsters and how it's effecting democracy worldwide. I enjoyed it a lot, however I think readers would have to be familiar with post Soviet culture in order to understand the humor.
Took a chapter or two to get into this book, but then found it to be a fascinating and entertaining.