Thursday, August 31st, 2006
I started Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook this morning and am digging it. The voice is very similar to Shteyngart's voice in Absurdistan, and I am reacting to it in the same familiar way.
The Russian Debutante's Handbook: not at all subtle, occasionally obnoxious. But there are moments that just sing. I think Absurdistan was the same way; but maybe Shteyngart is getting better at the subtlety, since I don't remember being as annoyed by his roughness when I was reading that.
Friday, September first, 2006
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.
Sunday, September third, 2006
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.
Monday, September 4th, 2006
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.
Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
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.
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