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Absurdistan

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Open Absurdistan and meet outsize Misha Vainberg, son of the 1,238th-richest man in Russia, lover of large portions of food and drink, lover and inept performer of rap music, and lover of a South Bronx Latina whom he longs to rejoin in New York City, if only the American INS will grant him a visa. But it won't, because Misha's late Beloved Papa whacked an Oklahoma businessman of some prominence. Misha is paying the price of exile from his adopted American homeland. He's stuck in Russia, dreaming of his beloved Rouenna and the Oz of NYC.

Salvation may lie in the tiny, oil-rich nation of Absurdistan, where a crooked consular officer will sell Misha a Belgian passport. But after a civil war breaks out between two competing ethnic groups and a local warlord installs hapless Misha as Minister of Multicultural Affairs, our hero soon finds himself covered in oil, fighting for his life, falling in love, and trying to figure out if a normal life is still possible in the twenty-first century.

Populated by curvaceous brown-eyed beauties, circumcision-happy Hasidic Jews, a loyal manservant who never stops serving, and scheming oil execs from a certain American company whose name rhymes with Malliburton, Absurdistan is a strange, oddly true-to-life look at how we live now, from a writer who should know.

333 pages, Paperback

First published May 2, 2006

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About the author

Gary Shteyngart

29 books1,835 followers
Gary Shteyngart is an American writer born in Leningrad, USSR (he alternately calls it "St. Leningrad" or "St. Leninsburg"). Much of his work is satirical and relies on the invention of elaborately fictitious yet somehow familiar places and times.

His first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), received the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,679 reviews
Profile Image for Jack.
19 reviews
August 15, 2008
I finished this book only because I paid full price for it. It was not funny and the self-absorption of the main character, Misha, was tiresome to say the least. Repetitious sex, gluttonous eating and lame political satire do not make a funny book. I hated this book, and feel absurd for having read the entire thing. Maybe I missed the point, some political and cultural satire, but I cannot believe its cover blurbs that cite so many newspapers naming it among their top ten books of the year.
Profile Image for Dave-O.
154 reviews8 followers
July 13, 2007
"Absurdistan" is a very self-aware book. This hybrid of "A Confederacy of Dunces" and "Fight Club" the book is calculated and scathing in its language. With one swipe, Gary Shteyngart brings hipsters, academics, politicians, MBAs, history and consumerism to a palatable middle-brow level. Which is just where the 300 pound anti-hero Misha needs them to be.

At its best "Absurdistan" is clever to the nth degree. Misha sees the world as it is, stripped of marketing gimmicks to the often ugly misogynist ritualistic truth: the world blows if you're poor. But it blows to be rich too, as Misha knows, especially when all he longs for is a visa to return to New York but ends up stuck in a third-world hellhole called Absurdistan. This fake country is parts of Somalia, Iraq, and the Gaza Strip at the heights of their civil wars, and Misha becomes an unwilling-willing pawn to powerful figures there.

In the second half of the book "Absurdistan" becomes a bit too slapstick for my taste, void of the very clever wordplay in the first half. Scenes become a bit too over-the-top and morality play-ish for me. For instance, a sex game that Misha plays with his girlfriend is to describe fake New York restaurants in the Zagat Guide style of writing. Also the mix of sexual explicitness and violence within the confines of this satire are conflicted, and the author struggles with this balancing act. Bret Easton Ellis and John Kennedy Toole are strange bedfellows.

A good read, worthy of its praise. Its topical, hip, in-your-face, and even includes some self-deprecation in the form of a character who is a stand-in for the author. Too self-aware at times? Maybe. But also funny as hell.
1 review4 followers
August 23, 2007
This disaster of a book is as senselessly profane as it is painful to read. While surely some measure of artistry was necessary to have stretched such an uninspired satire into 333-pages of filth, only a true dullard would find occasion to be impressed.

Shteyngart's aptly titled story of Absurdistan is told from the perspective of a morbidly obese pig-man who possesses the intellect of a lobotomized chihuahua. This vacuous ogre of a protagonist, Misha Vainberg, dawdles away life by lavishing over-sized indulgences upon himself, pissing away his deposed father's fortune. The highlights? A highly detailed botched-circumcision, repeatedly massaging the puss-filled abscess in his gut, sleeping with his step-mother in the wake of his father's assassination, engaging in coitus with his bloated Bronx-stripper girlfriend, and rapping some sick verses that would put Tom Wolfe to shame.

The only value in this book is in its social observations; critiquing the divisive nature of religion, portraying the depravity of impoverished states, illustrating the implications of western influences and the associated propensity towards corruption. Such topics would be more effectively addressed in an essay format rather than obscured by cover-to-cover smut.

That Absurtistan has managed to attract widespread praise across the literary world is cause for dismay and a sure signal we have reached a low ebb in contemporary literature. If you have any standards of decency, stay away from this book.
52 reviews14 followers
August 16, 2007
Absurdistan is a few different novels at once. Along the way Gary Shteyngart uses sex, drugs, and violence to present constant dicotomies of pleasure and pain, and hope and despair. There are quite a few sex scenes that are kinky in a humorous and even strangely endearing way. And then there is sex that is the sort only offered or taken part in because of desperation and despair. These moments are nauseating. There is a very entertaining drug scene in which the protagonist, Vainberg, is very high, and consequently acts very silly and has hilarious hallucinations. Then the other side of the experience kicks in as he hallucinates nursing his dying mother and accuses her of making him fat so his father would not love him as much. Violence is somehow made funny in the way Vainberg hits his endlessly loyal servant, although it really should not be. And then there is abrupt, visceral, depressing violence as well. All are elements of a story that cannot avoid being called the 21st century's Catch-22 by those who praise it (Shteyngart even has a character joke that if Joseph Heller were alive today, Halliburton would ask him to join their board). And, by the way, the book is essentially a musing about how sad it is that American existence is still a dream for so many (as depicted by an extremely rich Russian wanting only to while away the rest of his days in the South Bronx on a bench, enjoying the Oz of New York, while watching the poverty-stricken live their sad lives). And it is a musing about what American corporations (the real government of the U.S. and the world according to Shteyngart) will do to make money. And it is not pretty. And, yes, he does directly mention Dick Cheney.
Profile Image for Ed.
8 reviews
December 10, 2007
This struggles only in how it starts and how it ends. Now I don't need a bow, ribbon, road signs, and a pat on the head when I read, but he soapboxed his way through this allegory, and it needed something firmer coming out the other side. It blurs at the edges and you're left nowhere when you spent all this time grounded in a very specific, real "somewhere." If you put in all that effort to bring us with you, keeping us tightly wrapped in this "Iraq" stand-in, you can't just let us drop into a vacant space; we spent too much time confined, defined by your metaphor. In another way, it's like getting the literary version of the bends--like when you surface to fast from deep under water, the pressure change is too much to bear.

And reviewers kept calling it rip-roaringly funny--I was too busy being bothered by what was happening to really yuck it up, which is more a slight on the reviewers than Gary. Was I supposed to double-over at the fat Russian because he was fat, having sex with other fat people, or that he's white and likes hip-hop?

That being said, Gary's strength is consistently pairing something so sad you have to laugh to weather the pathos, or so gruesome, if you don't at least chuckle and shrug somewhat, you'll shudder to your core. He sets you up with this almost-WB-cartoon-style violence (there's a moment where two secruity guards at the embassy in St. Petersburg are beating him up and he's so impervious to their punches because of how drunk and large he is that he just continues telling them the story of his life to them until they all wear themselves out and all collapse in a heap at the gate) then brushing you up against some ugly and awful scenes. Another good example of this "ha-ha!...oh man..." kind of thing is the mantra he gives the Svani people, which twists and contorts in its implication as it is repeated over and over and over and over again.

Certainly worth a look-see, but don't expect Vonnegut.
Profile Image for M  F.
14 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2007
This is laugh-out-loud hilarious, by which I mean that it literally caused me to guffaw audibly in public. Second novels are often disappointing, but this one was insightful, incisive, and timely.

Shteyngart skewers just about every ethnic group and political ideology in this whirlwind farce, and it's impossible to put down. A great airplane read, and the short chapters also make it suitable for a subway commute.

I will say this, though -- I love to read about food, and the gourmand on these pages consumed some awfully disgusting stuff with unimaginable gusto. Prepare to be a little disgusted.
Profile Image for Ryan.
987 reviews
February 15, 2011
If you were ever wondering what the difference was between a novel that is well written and a novel that is fun to read, you could begin your study with Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan.

(Or Heart of Darkness, for that matter.)

Don't get me wrong, I can see what The New York Times is gushing about. Unfortunately, seeing it and feeling it are two different things. Sadly, for me, it is very rarely when I am in the mood to read a satire that is as dedicated to its cleverness as Absurdistan. Although I read and enjoyed Super Sad True Love Story, I'm afraid that it used up all of my Shteyngart enjoyment coupons.

Perhaps Shteyngart would agree, considering that he lampoons his first work in Absurdistan, inserting himself in the text as Jerry Shteynfarb and renaming his first novel, Russian Debutante's Handbook, "Russian Arriviste's Hand Job." What a clever fellow.

What's Absurdistan about?

Everyone loves New York, especially Misha Vainberg, the repulsive, morbidly obese son of the 1238th (humorous detail) richest Russian, a father who also happens to be a gangster and whose latest murder (of an Oklahoma businessman named Roger Daltrey--who?) prevents Misha from returning to New York. Isn't the INS inconvenient? Misha, who is gluttonously rich, flies to Absurdistan -- its oil riches make it "the Norway of the Caspian" -- to obtain a Belgian passport from a corrupt official. Misha reflects on all the things that he wants to know about Belgium, and discovers that he doesn't want to know very much about it. Don't get me wrong. It's not that this isn't funny. Misha is repulsive, and no one has more fun with that fact than Shteyngart, who realizes that there is a difference between the author and the protagonist.

So, yes, Absurdistan is well written and often funny. My problem is that I'd had enough of Shteyngart, but didn't realize it. Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if many readers find that they have had enough of Absurdistan before it finishes, too.
Profile Image for Joe Arencibia.
19 reviews4 followers
February 10, 2008
Good political and social satire makes you look at the world a little differently, with some laughs along the way. This did not.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why this book got such critical acclaim. The humor was cheap and obvious (although sometimes actually funny) and I couldn't help feeling like Shteyngart robbed his main character from A Confederacy of Dunces, only without the keen ability to actually develop the character like Toole had (RIP).

The most annoying part was that Shteyngart creates a character (Shteynfarb) who's supposed to be some kind of embodiment of his witty self-deprecation. Only, it really isn't all that witty and comes off more like the author's unwelcome and egotistical intrusion into an already tenuous plot. It's almost like he's begging the reader to be impressed by his wit. I have visions of Stewie from Family Guy writing this book and in a moment of misguided self-impression exclaiming "Oh my god, look how witty and intellectual I am!".

The book had some redeeming sections where shallow wit and transparent satire gives way to moments of real thought. For those I can see that Shteyngart has (or could have) some real talent, were it not for his own ego.

Profile Image for Ana.
805 reviews595 followers
March 9, 2017
When I began reading this book, I was very skeptical with regards to how much I was going to like it. But here I am, giving a four star rating, because this has been one of the most absurd, yet funny, rides I've been on in a long time.

If anyone here read my review on "The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of his Window" (or something along those lines, I haven't checked the title of that work in a long time), you will know that I am definitely not a big fan of absurd literature in its most absurd form. And yet, "Absurdistan" is so absurd, it crossed so many limits and yet caused me so much joy, that even I am dumbfounded at how much I liked it. Truly, if you have limited patience with characters that are walking stereotypes and situations that would absolutely never happen in real life, you shouldn't read this book. If, however, you want to laugh your heart out, please read this book.

My own thoughts of why I enjoyed this book but not the one previously mentioned is that "Absurdistan" is actually very intelligently written. And not just the style - the jokes, the situations. The main character is a very fat Russian man, son of a millionaire Russian crook, who studied at Accidental College in New York (get it, Accidental - Occidental?) and who gets himself caught up in a sort of war in the country of Absurdistan, a play on the idea of a Soviet satellite country, all of whom broke off after the fall of the USSR. Not only did I identify with literally ALL of the jokes on being a Russian or being a Slav (which I am not, in the first case, and almost/maybe/sorta qualify as in the second), but this entire work is a social, political and economic commentary on the Cold War, the rivalry between USA and Russia, the nameless countries and people in Eastern Europe and the far East and the lives of rich, privileged and spoiled young brats who come out of families who built empires entirely based on crime after the fall of the soviets.

It's written in first person and never did I think it should be another way. I instantly became a fan of this author, and would love to try his other book, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook". Come on, that's a great title.
Profile Image for Matt.
1,017 reviews663 followers
November 10, 2008
(Almost) non-stop brilliant. I was skeptical at first because I thought he was going to be an over-hyped "satirical" Gen-Xer kinda thing. I figured it would be good and everything, but when the blurbs on the back seem to hyperventilate I get antsy.

Nope! Wrong again! This thing pulled me in by the ears and I haven't been the same since.

His satire is raucous, raw, witty, considered, cosmopolitan, and takes on all comers. Dopey liberals (like myself) and sinister corporate Conservative conglomerates (everything else on the planet), multiculturalism, modern art, Jewish religious zealots, vapid urban youth culture, the stereotype of the "poetically suffering Russian", Soviet-style Communism, American-style Capitalism, vapid urban hip-hop culture, sex, death, love, hope, country, family.......

And its a fun story to boot, a rollicking yarn ripe with deadpan humor and a shrewdly bursting heart full of gold.

It rocks. Read it.
1,072 reviews104 followers
June 3, 2020
Everything Has Its Limits

Dear Jerry,
I've never visited your former country, though my grandparents did manage to escape the sour smell of its herring and poverty for the streets of America which smelled of ___________ [fill in your own description, you're better at it than I am]. Still, I've spent the last twenty-six years working with other, newer escapees. You've definitely got your thumb (or some other part) on the pulse of Russian Jews and no doubt on the Russian new rich class too. I'd like to congratulate you for having a great way with words. You're never at a loss for a metaphor or a rich phrase that shoots into my brain like an unwanted pop-up. Dark humor, pessimism, and depression are Russian specialties and though you write satire and you dig American humor and wit, you haven't fallen far from the tree. The number of ecstatic reviews and exuberant phrases displayed on my copy of your book must be too good to be true. But hey, that's the book biz. You know how we Americans handle praise. We're ready to spread it out of a bottomless jar of Skippy, but doesn't it raise a few suspicions ? Everybody jumps on the bandwagon, wants to look 'with it', progressive, or hip. I mean, I bet plenty of those reviewers think Turgenev used to play third base for the Tigers back in the '50s. I definitely think you've got talent. But then, so does Quentin Tarantino whose violence-porn movies I really dislike, especially "Pulp Fiction". In some way I find this book ABSURDISTAN equally disgusting, cynical, and commercial. I think you could be one of the great writers of our day, but this is flash in the pan kind of stuff. Your eye was firmly on the dollar. OK, I don't blame you too much. Everybody has to look out for Number One. Venality is part of modern life, like it or not. But everything in your book is corrupted, rotten, betrayed, excessive, and disgusting, if not totally self-centered, materialistic and crass. The obesity of the character reflects the grossness of the times. Yeah, I know it's a satire, it's tongue-in-cheek, but it all left me with a bad taste in my mouth like a cold french fry soaked in crisco. I wouldn't debate the skillfulness of your writing or the cleverness of your ideas, but it's the context or maybe the form that I'm talking about. If you want to be a great writer, lift your sights a bit, develop beyond the stomach and the crotch. I spoke with Gary Shteyngart the other day and he said you wouldn't be able to do it. But I'm bettin on you.
Sincerely,
Hopalong Kessidov
Profile Image for Tommy.
234 reviews29 followers
December 7, 2007
Fat Russian explores the Middle East a la Confederacy of Dunces, except not quite as charming and a bit more overbearing. Bits with Brooklyn fling quite comical; most other parts too heavy-handed to be laughable.
Profile Image for Ian.
31 reviews1 follower
November 17, 2008
Read this one on the strength of several great reviews...and learned never to read a book simply on the strength of several great reviews. Not poorly written, but the author's attempts at self-deprecating humor came across as more self-indulgent than anything else. The main character (an obvious riff on Ignatius Reilly) never gained my sympathy as a reader despite Shteyngart's best intentions. Overall, it simply didn't sit well with me and stopped being fun to read after the first 100 pages or so. Had I not been reading it for a book club, I probably would have bailed out halfway through.
Profile Image for Daniel.
2,382 reviews36 followers
August 12, 2008
According to the New York Times, this is one of the ten best books of the year. What a sad year for literature was 2007!

I wanted very much to like this, and there were moments when I smiled at a phrase or passage or even a bit of biting satire, but over-all this was nothing more than literary masturbation ... an author trying to show off how clever he is rather than actually engaging a reader in a story. And, quite frankly, the story doesn't even begin until nearly a third of the way into the book.

I'm no prude when it comes to literature, but I definitely didn't need so much of the obese man's sex life told to me so often and in such detail. Is it funny, once, that such a fat man describes his trials at love-making? Maybe. Is it funny that we have to revisit that over and over? No.

I loved the idea of a country, Absurdisvani, with no more oil and over-looked by the U.S., throwing the wool over Hallibutron's eyes and lying about their oil reserves. This is the story. This is what could have been a great satirical novel. Even focusing on a single individual such as the obese Misha Vainberg, the son of a Russian Jew, could have worked, but it wasn't the story of Absurdistan, it was the story of an obese, spoiled, rich, Russian Jew looking for some meaning in his life. I guess I should have known (remembered) that when the first sentence of the prologue reads, "This is a book about love."

I never cared about Misha, and thus I never cared about his life.
56 reviews4 followers
February 24, 2009
I was given this as a gift by my brother's ex-girlfriend a year and a half ago. I think my guilt over not reading it before now made me persevere.

Somehow I finished the book, despite being equally repulsed and bored by it. I really did appreciate Shteyngart's use of language, which is why I have opted for two stars rather than one. I know that this is classified as a satire, but I felt that Shteyngart was making his characters such irritating cliches that I wanted to commit violent acts against them. The character of Rouenna annoyed me endlessly with her silly "urban" talk, and Misha was just a vile simpleton. I also fear that I will forever be thinking of the words "toxic hump", which makes me shudder.

I found Misha such a contradiction that it was hard not to be confused. On one hand, his voice was at times measured and intellectual, yet the bulk of the book is him as a complete blubbering man-child. Which is he?

I certainly wouldn't recommend this to anyone else, and envy the people who gave this four or five stars as they must be far more clued in (delusional?) than me.
Profile Image for Sharyl.
485 reviews15 followers
April 2, 2017
Gary Shteyngarts's Absurdistan is very clever, and has some very funny moments. Misha Vainberg reminded me somewhat of Ignatius Reilly, from Confederacy of Dunces...anyway, this was interesting, engaging, and funny. A good one to finish on April Fools' Day...


Profile Image for Steve.
41 reviews1 follower
May 29, 2022
Rarely have I read a book where the novel itself so much resembles its primary character. Absurdistan is the story of Misha Vainberg, a morbidly obese, puerile, self-loathing, genital-obsessed, bloated man-child. Most of those descriptions can be applied to Absurdistan, too.

Misha is the son of modern-day Russian privilege, holder of a fortune handed down from his refusenik-turned-gangster father. He went to an American college, he's obsessed with hiphop culture and smitten with his Bronx girlfriend, and he can't go back to the country he desperately wants to be in, because the US government has barred his entry in reaction to his father's business' collateral damage. So, with the help of some of his father's associates, he heads to the Caspian backwater of Absurdvanï, where a Belgian passport of questionable provenance is waiting for him. Before he can leave to live in the EU, where he can at least be freed from his hated life in St Petersburg, the country breaks out in civil war.

The story is told from Misha's point of view, and naturally he's the central character. He's also the central problem. He's unlikeable, he's uninteresting and he's unsympathetic. At no point in Absurdistan did I find myself caring what happens to him. Even as a character who's clearly meant to be a satirical construct, he's entirely unconvincing. He has less depth than a cardboard cutout, and he's too obvious a personification of the targets of Shteyngart's clumsy and hackneyed satire.

Worse, Shteyngart's writing too closely resembles his main character. It's bloated and plodding, taking forever to move to anything interesting. It's frequently devoid of nuance, as seen in the insistance in reminding what seems to be at least once per page that Misha is really, really obese. The obvious self-mocking insertion of himself into the narrative falls completely flat. The attempts at humor throughout most of the book are mostly ineffective, with jokes seen from miles away (oh, look, fat people having sex is "funny"!), and the narrative too frequently keeps returning to the same tropes, flaying a horse that has been dead since Act I.

All that said, there's a skeleton of good satire and actual humor wrapped in Absurdistan's corpulent prose. It takes until well into the final act to finally find its feet, but it moves deftly in the all-too-brief period where it's the narrative's focus. Once the cover is peeled back on the true origins and aims of Absurdvanï's civil war, the satire is piercing and hits its target with great precision. It's also the one point of the novel where the attempts at humor are successful, starting with the very funny description of Misha's getting high and culminating with his bitterly hilarious encounter with a Mossad agent.

Sadly, the book's apex is all-too-brief and inconsequential relative to the mountain of rubbish it rests upon. Three hundred pages of Misha sadly overwhelms 40 pages of actual quality.
Profile Image for Charles Matthews.
144 reviews58 followers
December 8, 2009
Never judge a book by its title, but you can bet that a novel called Absurdistan is not going to be subtle or take things seriously. And Gary Shteyngart's second novel is pretty much what you'd expect from the title: a broad satire on the current geopolitical scene.

Mr. Shteyngart, who was born in what was then Leningrad and came to the United States at the age of 7, made a well-received debut four years ago with The Russian Debutante's Handbook, a bumptious and bawdy look at expatriate Russians and Eastern Europeans in the post-Soviet world. He has notched the raunch up even higher in the new novel, which follows the adventures of Misha Vainberg, who is both hugely fat and hugely rich, as he tries to get back to the United States, from which he has been barred because his father killed an Oklahoman named Roger Daltrey. (Who? No, not that one.)

Misha was educated at Accidental College (get it?) in the American Midwest, is a passionate devotee of hip-hop (his nickname is "Snack Daddy"), and has a girlfriend from the South Bronx named Rouenna. But he's stuck in St. Petersburg (or "St. Leninsburg," as he calls it), so he engineers a trip to the former Soviet republic of Absurdsvanï, lured by the promise that he can get a phony Belgian passport there, which will take him one step closer to his beloved New York City.

What he finds in this country on the Caspian, cheek-by-jowl with Iran, is a place of hovels and Hyatts, swarming with workers from Halliburton (which the locals, unable to aspirate an English "H," call "Golly Burton"). They're there for the oil, while multinational corporations and the military exploit everything, especially the ancient and undying religious schism between the Sevo and the Svanï (cf. Sunni and Shiite), which generates a passion incomprehensible to any but the true believers. Things do not, as you might expect, go well for the country, or for Misha.

Absurdistan is a Monster Truck Rally of a satire, sort of Jonathan Swift does "South Park" with help from Rabelais, Gogol, Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Evelyn Waugh and Joseph Heller. It goes so far over the top that it may make you want to lie down with a damp cloth over your eyes. And it sometimes dares you to laugh, as when Misha comes up with a proposal for a Holocaust museum that's in the Worst. Possible. Taste.

Toward the end of the novel, as the exaggerations and absurdities – and the bodies -- pile higher, Mr. Shteyngart occasionally pulls back the curtain on the real-world pain that lies behind the novel's lunacy. It's not a novel for everyone – except that it has something to offend everyone – but as a display of raw talent and unfettered imagination it's undeniably fascinating.
Profile Image for Morgan.
51 reviews3 followers
June 15, 2008
Really, it boils down to the fact that this was just a boring wank-a-thon. Boring. As shit. I can see how people would be impressed with this book though, since Shteyngart can emulate all of the writing styles of every single polular Russian writer of the past two centuries. Ok, dude, I get it, you can write like Tolstoy and Nabokov, I get it. However, if you're trying to impress me with that junk, it's a wasted gesture, since the people that get it are the same people who have already read Dostoyevsky, so they're already read some shit written in that style. Why would I want to read something written like that again?

Also, this guy gets way too fucking postmodern with his pop culture references, especially the hip hop ones. Honestly, they make me feel uncomfortable, especially the parts where he raps.

Speaking of postmodern, way to insert yourself into the story. Nobody's ever done that before! You are a real innovator, sir! You're like the fucking Neal Armstrong of indirectly making fun of yourself in an attempt at coming off like some actuallly cool dude. Good job!

So, yeah, not a big fan of this book.
Profile Image for Thara.
63 reviews5 followers
August 3, 2007
Misha, the main character, is a Russian and watered-down version of Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces. Read that instead: it's one of the funniest & most brilliant books you will ever read. Absurdistan, on the other hand, is entertaining, but not a laugh riot.

Shteyngart teeters the line between vulgar and funny, often landing on the more-vulgar-than-funny side. I also have beef with the author's self-satire, which comes in the form of an often referenced nemesis in America who wrote "The Russian Debutante's Handjob." It's annoying and as if the author is hiding the fact that he's bothered by any criticism he may have gotten as a writer or as a person. You can skip this one, but if you feel you must read it, the hip hop references and "ghetto" language as spoken by Russians are pretty hilarious.
Profile Image for Michael Reiter.
149 reviews18 followers
September 12, 2022
Ich hab mich tatsächlich durch dieses Buch gequält. Stets in der Hoffnung, dass es doch noch brisant, spannend oder lustig werden würde. Und ich wurde enttäuscht. Grauenhaftes Geseiere, das eine uninteressante Story mit ungustiösen und belanglosen Charakteren zeichnet. So was mieses hab ich vermutlich noch nie zuvor gelesen.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,204 reviews
August 13, 2013
I must first say that I just hate reviewing books that I have given 1 star ratings. I know some reviewers out there enjoy the scathing review. I, personally, just feel like it is yet another an imposition on my time by a novel that was not worth my time in the first place.

That said, I think my least favorite piece of this novel (and that is saying a lot) is that it ends on 9/11/01. The main character is trying to get out of the Middle East and into NYC despite having been banned by INS and he ends on an upbeat tone and thinks he has finally escaped Absurdia (oh wait, that is Absurdistan) only to bump into 9/11. Yeah...I know Shteyngart thought he was cute with that one, but really just not so much.

So much of this book is taken up with gross descriptions. I am a person who enjoyed American Psycho and can certainly take graphic sex and gore (for example after reading "Zeke Stargazing" by Rachel Kimbrough and proclaiming it my current favorite short story my brother called me a sociopath). However, this novel focused on detailed descriptions of fat person sex and eating. As much as I like eating and fucking as the rest of the world, I really would rather not watch while it is done by the obese.

Shteyngart thought he was being funny with the whole "golly burton" and probably thought he was avante garde and liberal with his notes on the absurdisms of American intervention overseas. Unfortunately, it was overdone and boring and repetitive. I understood that Steyngart was attempting to draft a novel about the Middle East and oil in the same way that Heller wrote about WWII, however it was a) presumptuous and b) just plain wrong to mention Heller in his text.

Finally, I found it annoying that Misha's father was absolutely everywhere and knew absolutely everyone and that Misha only coupled with Gentile girls (despite himself writing a treatise on the need for Jewish pro-creation).

Overall the language is not interesting, the plot is rambling and stupid, and the main character is self absorbed but not in a funny absurdist way, just a in a whining annoying way. Not worth the time.
Profile Image for Mike.
311 reviews12 followers
January 6, 2008
This was a really odd book. “Absurdistan” is about Misha Vainberg, a big, fat, spoiled Russian in his late 20s who is trapped in Russia. He’s stuck there with his girlfriend Rouenna, a largish black stripper from Harlem and his best friend Alyosha-Bob who isn’t Russian but kind of pretends to be. Misha yearns to go back to the US where he attended Accidental College and had himself a botched circumcision. He’s trapped in Russia because his father, who is now dead, killed an Oklahoman man and now the US State Department won’t let him back in.
As the book goes on a corrupt police official offers to help Misha and his friends a way out of Russia through a country called Absurdistan. They wind up there right at the beginning of a shady civil war. The rest is really Misha’s battle to turn himself into a feasible human being and to get out of Absurdistan.
Really there isn’t s single redeemable person in this entire book. Every character is kind of slimy or sluggish or immoral or gluttonous or, most often, all of the above. Misha is a sad, bulbous, RICH semi-moron with a bottomless checking account and an actual man-servant named Timofey.
“Absurdistan” was a weird just a strange read. When I was reading it, I was glad I was reading it. But when I put it down it was quite easy not to pick it back up again. I was never particularly eager to get back to reading it. I can’t say Gary Shteyngart’s “Absurdistan” is a bad book because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t a good book either. Somehow the New York Times Book Review called this one of the best books of the year. I think perhaps their reviewers need to read better books.
21 reviews1 follower
January 21, 2008

I thoroughly enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek, satirical coming of age tale, though it was good for different reasons than I had expected. The political satire in the book deals with the nature of geopolitics in the age of oil addiction, terrorism and a vacuum in the sort of global stability that existed in the stalemate of the cold war. I was expecting this book to be a send up of the logic of nation building, war for oil and the related issues that are so deadly important in the world now. However, these elements in the novel were only slightly more than an afterthought and weren't dealt with in a comprehensive way. The politics that affect life in Russia, the United States and the fictional republic of Absurdsvani, are really just the backdrop for a story that is at its center about a man who is trying to deal with the loss of his powerful father, develop a meaningful romantic relationship and find a sense of purpose in his personal life. This aspect of the narrative was very well done, with complex characters, good plotting and a lot of humor. As a satire though, I thought it fell a bit short. It seemed like there could have been a whole novel made of what was really only the third act in Absurdistan, and I think I would have liked that novel, but the whole package seemed patched together to a degree. Overall an entertaining and well done novel with humor reminiscent of A Confederacy of Dunces, and a statement about the immigrant experience that seems deeply felt and genuine. It also reminded me of Everything is Illuminated (though I'd say Absurdistan is much better, no so cute) and a little bit of Vernon God Little.
Profile Image for Dorothy.
1,340 reviews91 followers
August 28, 2008
Misha Vainberg is fat. There is no doubting or denying that. He is the narrator of his story here and he reminds us of his fatness on almost every page.

He is also rich, the son of the 1238th richest man in Russia. As such he has lived a pampered life and the happiest part of that life has been spent in America. Specifically in New York.

But it is 2001 and Misha has been banned from New York, banned from America, because his father, the 1238th etc., has killed an American in Russia and now all Vainbergs are banned.

Misha is a hedonist and a melancholic and he loves women. And women seem to love him back. He is apparently a rather attractive fat man. And he does have all that lovely money, with which he is very generous.

The wild and often hilarious plot of "Absurdistan" details Misha's star-crossed attempts to get back to his beloved New York by way of the former Soviet republic of the book's title.

Through his eyes, we see the pathos of the country and its ridiculous civil war. It could stand in for almost any country in the region, perhaps even Georgia.

Misha and his allies hatch a plot to gain Belgian citizenship for him. It is hoped that with a Belgian passport, he may actually finally be able to regain the holy grail of his existence - New York. As the story ends on September 10, he is trying to make his way to his new country of Belgium and ultimately back to New York.

This is a masterfully plotted and written story. Mr. Shteyngart has a real eye and ear for the ridiculous and he is a wonderful writer.
Profile Image for Barbara.
703 reviews19 followers
April 7, 2016
Das Positive an diesem Buch ist: Es liest sich unangestrengt (so wie man nach einem langen Tag einen schlechten Teenie-Film in der Glotze weiterschauen würde, auch wenn er sinnentleert ist, weil man sich's gerade auf dem Sofa gemütlich gemacht hat und nicht mehr aufstehen will).

Sonst nicht viel: Ein fettleibiger Russe mit Herz und viel, viel Geld erzählt von knapp 3 Monaten seines Lebens (die gerade so bis zu 9/11 dauern...), in denen er versucht, die gegen ihn verhängte Einreisesperre in die USA zu überwinden, damit er endlich wieder bei seiner geliebten Rouenna sein kann. Der Weg zu einem falschen belgischen Pass führt ihn nach Absurdistan, wo just in dem Moment ein Bürgerkrieg ausbricht und alles etwas chaotisch wird, vordergründig, denn im Hintergrund wissen die Strippenzieher genau, was sie wollen.

Ich hätte das Buch nach 80 Seiten (meine neue Regel bzw. die "Erlaubnis", nach 80 Seiten ein Buch abzubrechen, statt pflichtbewusst weiterzulesen) problemlos weggelegt, wenn wir nicht in der Leserunde morgen darüber diskutierten und eine Diskussion über Ungelesenes einfach weniger Spaß macht. Aber ohne die Leserunde hätte ich mir das Buch auch gar nie angeschafft - und nichts, aber auch gar nichts verpasst.
Profile Image for Lemar.
665 reviews53 followers
October 2, 2014
Often immigrants to the U.S. revel in it's charms, opportunities and diversity and reawaken our own appreciation. This is one aspect of this marvelous novel which celebrates New York by seeing it from afar. The archetypes established by Los Angeles and New York inform the goals of many of the book's characters. Shteyngart is achingly funny in exposing human life complete with our petty desires and grand benevolent impulses. This is a 21st century book that achieves this distinction by bringing his unique voice, the humor and pathos of his Russian immigrant upbringing to bear on our current times in which small outposts of humanity vie for fleeting recognition on our video stage of short attention span. Analogous to the way Mark Twain used his Missouri country boy "aw shucks this is just a little story" approach to racism, Shteyngart brings his world weary Russian-American voice, which sees the beautiful humor in human longing, to the subject of globalization or how our world is becoming connected as one.
Profile Image for C..
Author 23 books402 followers
April 22, 2007
The review in the Times and the interviews I heard on NPR made me want to rush out and buy the hard-cover, but I waited, and now the paper-back is out.

Good thing I waited, as I had to force myself to finish the first four chapters. I like to give a book a chance, give it 50 pages or so before I give up on it, but honestly I started skimming around page 35 or so. The tone is so forced, so self-consciously modern and hip, the narrator so annoying, that I had to check the cover to make sure I hadn't picked up a David Eggers novel by mistake.

I'm a man who likes a self-conscious, post-modern, no fourth-wall narrator, and I love magical-realist forced political/historical allegories (everything by Rushdie before "Ground," "Middlesex," et cetera), but this was a mix of too much and not good enough. It didn't help that I think the narrator's south-bronx girlfriend was supposed to be funny, but to me she felt more like a racist caricature.

Profile Image for Rob.
689 reviews95 followers
March 30, 2013
This is the second time so far this year where a book has been so concerned with being funny that it forgets to engage on a personal level. This time we get some reheated Confederacy of Dunces in the form of Misha Vainberg, an obese, sex-obsessed son of privilege who finds himself trapped in the titular country as he attempts to flee Russia to the West. Author Shteyngart tries to tie his many threads together at the end to say something profound about capitalism, globalism, personal hypocrisy, and the unpredictability of love, but it just didn't work for me. He's clearly talented, and I definitely laughed from time to time, but even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day, even a blind pig occasionally finds a truffle, etc., etc.
Profile Image for Diana.
9 reviews
April 2, 2011
Alright. People say this book is "Confederacy of Dunces" meets "Fight Club." There is definitely also the gentle poking-fun-of-foreigners'-English-for-humorous-effect of "Everything is Illuminated," and the over-the-top language of "Lolita," as well as the feel of Dr. Strangelove. Kind of a weird book.

To me, it progressed as follows:

Bizarre, and difficult to get into ->
Engaging and funny ->
Very weird (drug trip) ->
Unsatisfying.


The dramatic irony building up throughout (the implication that the book would culminate with 9/11) was, if a technically understandable, really unsatisfying. Booo.
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