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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart's second novel, follows the story of Misha Vainberg, a rich, obese Russian Jew (as is Shteyngart – a Russian Jew, not rich and obese). Misha is stranded in Russia and desperately desires to to return to the U.S. The story unfolds as Misha attempts to facilitate his return to the U.S. by obtaining Belgian citizenship in Absurdistan.

The excellence of Shteyngart's writing is not plot or action, however; it is in the interaction of cultures. Misha, who desires to be American, and is willing to travel to Absurdistan to obtain Belgian citizenship, cannot escape his ethnic and national inheritance: he remains a Russian Jew, and embodies the historically downtrodden and oppressed nature of both groups. The reader is never quite sure if Shteyngart believes all these ethnic and national stereotypes, or if he uses them to demonstrate their inadequacy. Nevertheless, Absurdistan is a wonderfully written portrayal of the permanence of ethnic and national identity in an ever-increasingly global culture. - Mark Geoffriau