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Posts about Gary Shteyngart
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5 years ago I illustrated a post about The Russian Debutante's Handbook with a funny-looking picture of Gary Shteyngart. Ever since then, I've had a steady trickle of Google hit referrals (why yes, I do check my referrals log rather obsessively; what makes you ask?), one or two nearly every day, looking for the text "funny looking Gary Shteyngart" or some close variation thereon. Always wondered why... He is funny looking to be sure; but --
My curiousity got the better of me today and after a little research I found that Shteyngart wrote a short note about his love-hate relationship with America for Granta 84, under the title "Funny-looking." So, one mystery solved and an entertaining read as well. Take a look -- the full text of the article is readable in Amazon's "Look Inside" feature. I scanned around the web to see if it was reprinted anywhere; the only place I found it was on a white supremacist site where (I guess -- did not really spend very long over there) it was reproduced to demonstrate the degeneracy and sickness of The Jew.
Speaking of Gary Shteyngart: he is giving a reading at Seton Hall next month! That should be fun.
Today, I finished reading Super Sad True Love Story. Today, Michael Woods reviewsSuper Sad True Love Story for the Times Book Review (inspiring Molly Fischer to wish for "someone to love me as the Times loves Gary Shteyngart"). It's a good, insightful review of a good, insightful book. (I wish the review did a little less summarizing of the story-line though.)
When I opened the book and read the first pages, I was thinking this was going to be a magnificent book. It started feeling overly scripted, a little plodding, somewhere in the first third of the book... but by the last hundred or so utterly gripping pages, it had won me back completely. I find the Times' love for Shteyngart well directed.
Reading Super Sad True Love Story is a bit like going to the sauna -- the steamy immediacy of Lenny's diary entries alternating with the icy removal of Eunice's GlobalTeens account. I had been thinking the diary entries were not believable as diary entries and the GlobalTeens not believable as chat/e-mail messages; but halfway through I'm re-thinking this. I realized today that I don't have any clear idea what the method for entering text into one's äppärät is; the verbosity and the correct spelling of the GlobalTeens messages becomes much more believable when I take into account that Eunice and her friends are not using keyboards, that some kind of word recognition is happening inside the computer. I'm curious now about what it might be -- I'm pretty sure they are not composing the messages by speaking to their äppäräts.
I'm eating up Super Sad True Love Story.... A couple of reactions to it, but first a brief passage that I think illustrates what a great rush reading this book is. (i.e. if you don't like this, don't bother with the book, and vice versa.)
My äppärät pinged.
CrisisNet: DOLLAR LOSES OVER 3% IN LONDON TRADING TO FINISH AT HISTORIC LOW OF 1€ = $8.64 IN ADVANCE OF CHINESE CENTRAL BANKER ARRIVAL U.S.; LIBOR RATE FALLS 57 BASIS POINTS; DOLLAR LOWER BY 2.3% AGAINST YUAN AT 1¥* = $4.90
I really needed to figure out what this LIBOR thing was and why it was falling by fifty-seven basis points. But, honestly, how little I cared about all these difficult economic details! How desperately I wanted to forsake these facts, to open a smelly book or to go down on a pretty young girl instead. Why couldn't I have been born to a better world?
I can honestly see how I could go either way about this -- it could seem self-indulgent and silly; but instead I'm feeling for Lenny, caring about his histrionic soliloquies. Rayyan Al-Shawaf at The Millionscomplains that Shteyngart's broad satire produces one-dimensional, artificial characters -- but to be honest that's sort of what I'm expecting from Shteyngart based on Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook -- it's a feature, not a bug.
Possibly of interest in this connection, I'm seeing some points of connection between this book and A Visit From the Goon Squad -- a hugely different book, and one comparatively much more concerned with drawing characters than with biting social satire. It's possible I'm making this up -- but there seems to be a common theme between the two of them. In both books authentic communication is dying, its place being taken over by superficial, thoughtlessly immediate texting.
* (No explanation at this point in the text, why ¥ is being used as a symbol for Yuan instead of 元. Perhaps just sloppy copy-editing...)
I went to Brooklyn yesterday evening to hear Gary Shteyngart reading from Super Sad True Love Story (about which more later -- it looks from the first pages and from the portion he read like it is going to be a magnificent book) at Greenlight Books, which turns out to be a lovely independent book shop in Fort Greene... I got there early enough to take the train to Grand Army Plaza and walk through Prospect Heights, and by serendipity discovered a second bookshop that I'm adding to my list of destinations, which is Unnameable Books.
The reading was packed -- easily 75 people were there, filling up the seating area, spilling onto the floor and into the aisles of the shop. One of the most fun readings I can remember. I met up with Dave and Greg, and went out for dinner with them afterwards. Got my book inscribed. (And by a funny coincidence, I bought an inscribed book at Unnameable Books, a little booklet of poetry by José Pubén -- it is signed "with brotherly amity" to Adela Muñoz.)
Wow, it seems like all of my favorite young novelists are releasing new books all of a sudden! Today I come to find out (via NPR's The Takeaway) that Gary Shteyngart has a new book coming out, set in a near-future dystopia in NYC. Here is his interview from this morning:
On Friday, Shteyngart's release party is happening at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene. I am trying to figure out if I can make it over there...
The ending of The Russian Debutante's Handbook does not disappoint -- the last hundred pages are masterful -- I could not tear myself away. And look at this epigram from the final pages of the novel:
Somehow, Cleveland has survived, with her gray banner unfurled -- the banner of Archangelsk and Detroit, of Kharkov and Liverpool -- the banner of men and women who would settle the most ignominious parts of the earth, and there, with the hubris born neither of faith nor ideology but biology and longing, bring into the world their whimpering replacements.
So in Chapter 25 of The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Vladimir is looking at Morgan's wall. He sees a poster of The Boot, which is the only remaining bit of a gargantuan statue of Stalin which was destroyed after the republic of Stolovaya broke away from the USSR. "Beneath it, a Stolovan slogan: 'Graždanku! Otporim vsyechi Stalinski çudoviši!' Vladimir could never be sure of the funny Stolovan language, but translated into normal Russian this could be an exhortation along the lines of 'Citizens! Let us take the ax to all of Stalin's monstrosities!'" -- the meaning of this is not exactly clear to me. Stolovan is a Slavic language which Shteyngart has invented. Is the quoted phrase correct Russian which translates as given, and Volodya is speculating that the words may have different idiomatic meanings in Stolovan? Or is the grammar not-quite-Russian and the speculation is V. trying to figure out how to run the words together? It's a little hard for me to figure out how V. would be able to come up with that translation but not to be sure it was an accurate one.
Update: My esteemed colleague LanguageHat (of LanguageHat.com) comes bearing enlightenment:
It's certainly not Russian [he says], and I doubt it's some obscure Slavic language; it's presumably Shteyngart's invention. (For one thing, "grazhdanku" would be the accusative singular of the feminine form of 'citizen' in Russian, and it wouldn't be a plural nominative in any Slavic I've ever heard of.) "Stalinskie chudovishchi" would be 'Stalin's monsters' in Russian, so that's where that comes from; in Russian, otpor is 'repulse, rebuff,' and otporot' is either 'to rip off' or 'to flog, thrash' (though it also means 'to fuck' in slang), but there is no verb otporit'.
Also he confirms that I was right in my hunches about pronunciation.
I'm feeling a lot of kinship with Vladimir Girshkin in The Russian Debutante's Handbook. The story is reading kind of like a fantasy of mine from my younger days, combined with reflections I've been thinking about lately to do with creative effort and getting by -- sorry about the extreme incoherence, it's all sort of impressionistic at this point.
I'm wondering about the correct pronunciation of Volodya -- I think it must be "Vo-LOD-ya" but frequently when my eye lights on it, I hear "Vo-lo-DYE-a". A similar question applies to Stolovaya -- whether the accent is on LO or on VAY.
Shteyngart has the best-ever jacket photo on this book.