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The Russian Debutante's Handbook

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3.52  ·  Rating details ·  6,230 Ratings  ·  695 Reviews
The Russian Debutante's Handbook is infused with energy and wit and a brilliant use of language. Hilarious, extravagant, yet uncannily true to life, it follows the adventures of Vladimir, a young Russian-American immigrant, whose capitalist dreams and desires for a girlfriend lead him off the straight and narrow and into uncharted territory.

Taking us from the dreary conf
...more
Hardcover, 452 pages
Published June 10th 2002 by Riverhead Books (first published April 29th 2002)
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Elyse
Sep 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
$1.99 today....

Shetyngart's debut novel is pretty funny.
Vladimir Girshin, is lovable and comical as a Russian-Jewish immigrant....as are all the characters. Even the characters you don't like --are so stereotyped--you begin to like them too.
Tongue-and-cheek stabs at political parties, and different nationalities.
Guilty pleasure reading!
If you like Philip Roth ... and other Shteyngart books... no reason you wouldn't enjoy this too --
when you're in the mood for a walk on the crazy & wacky
...more
Antof9
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2004-read, immigrants
From the back of the book:

"Breezily hilarious."
-New York Magazine
"Blisteringly funny."
-Salon.com
"Remarkable."
-New York Observer
"As funny and wicked as Waugh."
-Time
"Brilliant."
-Harper's Bazaar
"Terrifically charming."
-Vanity Fair
"A wholly original delight."
-Entertainment Weekly
"Energetic, sparkling."
-Los Angeles Times
"Not to be missed."
-The Wall Street Journal

Really? Seriously? Is it possible that this book is the author's own Cagliostro? Is it possible that all the lovers of this book (it won the
...more
Karen
May 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the language in this book - the weird, fresh phrases and the author's obvious fascination with English words, their sound and their usage. This seems to be a common thread in books by smart Russian/Eastern European men writing in English, though I haven't read enough of these authors to make a reliable generalization. The language was enough to carry me pretty far, but I felt that there wasn't much more to this book than that. The beginning was excellent - when Vladimir is working at a c ...more
Eveline Chao
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
this was awesome and clever and hilarious. i described it to someone as hipster nabokov, which might sound off-putting, & there are parts that are SO clever and witty and hip that it verges close to making you start to hate it for its cleverness, but in the end it managed to keep me on its side.

it was also witty enough to make me do really dorky things like transcribe a couple lines i liked. here they be:

"Real humor is not supposed to be funny," Baobab said. "It's supposed to be tragic, lik
...more
Mark
Aug 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book was a hoot. Shteyngart has a wonderful sense of the absurd, and his penchant for eccentric characters is the main selling point of this romp in New York and an Eastern European city that has all the chaotic vibrancy and despair of any city emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. Well worth it.
Rebecca
I feel like I've been reading a different book toeveryone else?! 'Satire of hipsters'?- maybe for about 10 pages, the rest just descended into the "comic" failures of Vladimir in the crime world... I was literally forcing myself to read up to certain pages, so in the end I quit.

To be honest, I was turned off from the very first nine pages which were full of people saying how good the book was. If the book is so good, why does it need that? Very suspicious...

I'm so disappointed, I have been want
...more
Judy
I read Gary Shteyngart's debut novel at fever pitch because I started it late for a reading group discussion. Fever pitch was the correct approach; it matches the pace of the story.

In the grand tradition of immigrant novels, Vladimir Girshkin is a young man of Russian descent adrift in a sea of confusion. He works at an immigrant resettlement agency in New York City, making non-profit wages. His girlfriend is a dominatrix by night, his father is an MC who scams Medicare, and his mother-well I ne
...more
shiv
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
i found this tome to be fun...but vladimir girshkin is so unsympathetic a character, i found it difficult to really enjoy. i get the feeling that i'm supposed to see him as a farce, or a transatlantic everyman who happens to have amazing adventures...mostly i just see him as shallow and afraid. i particularly loathe the judgmental inner monologues, wherein he weighs people's coolness quotients by just how high they rank on the douchebag scale.

i know it's supposed to be satire; i've just met too
...more
Jim
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor, russia, fiction
The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart is a humorous fantasy about a Russian immigrant who is trying to find himself, and usually finds himself in hot water. The hero/narrator is one Vladimir Girshkin, who finds himself in a dead-end job and an unsatisfying relationship. He dreams for something better, but the advice of his friends leads him, on one hand, to Florida, where he infuriates a Catalan mobster by refusing to be his catamite. Then -- on the advice of a highly suspect Russi ...more
Katrin
Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Most, especially ex-pats
As a former expatriate myself, I found this book to be comforting both in content and style. Being displaced in a foreign country is very amusing after the initial shock and confusion, the new country's idiosynchrasies clashing with your own. The reverse culture shock in coming back to the U.S. after being an expat in Europe is even more interesting than the original displacement, and this is observed and described in great detail and aptitude.
Jordan
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
"A knowledgeable Russian lazing around in the grass, sniffing clover and munching on boysenberries, expects that at any minute the forces of history will drop by and discreetly kick him in the ass.
A knowledgeable Jew in a similar position expects history to spare any pretense and kick him directly in the face.
A Russian Jew (knowledgeable or not), however, expects both history and a Russian to kick him in the ass, the face, and every other place where a kick can be reasonably lodged. Vladimir u
...more
Alan
Apr 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Strongmen and mountebanks
Recommended to Alan by: UUs; subsequent work
The Russian Debutante's Handbook is Gary Shteyngart's first novel, but the third I encountered—the fourth, actually, if you count his memoir Little Failure. Having now read all of Shteyngart's books to date—Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story as well—I can see that this first deep shaft Shteyngart sank into the metaphorical mine of his memory has rougher edges than its successors, but the same manic energy went into its construction.

They're all of a piece, really, these books of his, snaps
...more
Corey
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: laughed-out-loud
I found a dusty copy of this book lying unattended to on my mother's bookshelf, sandwiched between Updike and Dickens, believe it or not. I believe what drew me in was a blurb on the back comparing Shtyngart to Saul Below.

Indeed, the plot is analogous to The Adventures of Augie March (and in fact, I think there are a couple of allusions to that great novel in Shtyngart's novel), but if you go into this one looking for something akin to the beauty and flawlessness of Bellow's prose, you'll be dis
...more
Hudson
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this for 25 cents at a yard sale, and what a score that was... Steyngart’s humor bubbles up naturally from the ground, only fully carbonated and lime-flavored... I’ve seldom read a novel that gets underway so fast. He hits you right away with a barrage of breezy, antic, cutting observations, all cleverly slotted within a breakneck plot. (For relief from the pace, the narrator has a wistful and weary side; and there's an undercurrent of geopolitical awareness to also help temper the hype ...more
Julie
Four and a half stars.
Highly funny, and as for the audiobook, Rider Strong (which is an awesome name) read it really well.
In a part where they hire some DJ for their new super-pretentious dance club where horse tranquilizers are the new cocaine, as he is getting off the plane he yells, "MC Paavo in de haus!! In de pan-European 'hood! Got de Helsinki beat y'all can't fuck wif!"
His accent was so hilarious that I kept rewinding to hear it again.
I want to make it my new ring tone.

Octo
Sep 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dunread
Hmm... I think I might have enjoyed this book far less had I not been thrown into the (former) U.S.S.R. born immigrant community in Chicago for the brief period of time that I was.

This book deals with all that interests me so much in that community - the courage to immigrate in the first place, the idealized American dream, the social disconnect that exists once immigrants arrive, the longing for for home, the misunderstanding of america, and the ultimate american question - what do you do when
...more
Tuckova
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I feel like I went on a date with this guy that everybody said I would totally love, and I don't want to be rude or anything but I'm really having a not-fun evening with him, I don't get the appeal, he seems like pretty much every other self-absorbed type telling his long long and not very interesting story (OH DOES YOUR MOTHER EXPECT TOO MUCH SUCCESS FROM YOU HOW SPECIAL AND UNIQUE TELL ME MORE), and I realized around page 250 out of 400 or so that as the book is not a human being it is not at ...more
Dan
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. It is hilarious--I was laughing out loud from the first chapter. Set in the 1990s in New York City, the book is essentially a satire on hipster culture. I love it for that reason alone. But the story is good too! I'd offer a summary but I think it's difficult to explain without spoilers. All I can say is the story is a lot of fun. Definitely recommend it!
Will
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had pretty high expectations going into reading The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. I read Super Sad True Love Story over the summer, and thought that Shteyngart’s writing in it was witty and direct, and his character development deeply humanizing. Lenny Abramov, the protagonist of Super Sad True Love Story, expresses his feelings so strongly and outwardly that it’s hard not to sympathize and identify with him. If Shteygart’s writing style were to be relatively constant between books then The Ru ...more
Moses Kilolo
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhere in the middle of this book I wanted to hate it. For reasons unrelated to the book. Or the authorial style. Or the story. I just fell sick. Deep into the night, while the world around me was quietly asleep, I walked in and out of my room. It's 3. Now its 4. And shall it be 6 or 7 when the light is adequate. When Nairobi rises from its slumber. This pain. So terrible. (Perhaps I shouldn't say where, in my mortal body, the pain racked,scaring the shit off me. Easy to loose your body. Don' ...more
Jeremy
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shteyngart's first novel works best as an evocation of 90s America and Americans, both at home and abroad. Narrator Vladimir Girshkin spills as much ink analyzing Americans and expats as immigrants, and his views are always insightful and humorous. The plot serviceably moves this incisive outsider from parties in New York to clubs in Prava (Prague) to, memorably, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, but his evolution from stilted bureaucrat to Machiavellian con artist comes across as a pleasant cont ...more
E
Nov 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, favorites
My ultimate credo: A story becomes literature when it transcends its genre. When it can seduce almost any reader, regardless of its plot, because the characters are so well crafted, the writing is seamlessly poetic, and nimble comedy keeps any tragedy from taking itself too seriously. Shteyngart's novel exceeds these expectations, having entranced a reader who previously found every mafia tale she'd ever encountered supremely nauseating. While a few classic features of mobster fiction can be fou ...more
Janice
Oct 25, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
IF YOU'RE GOING TO WRITE ABOUT PRAGUE, WRITE ABOUT PRAGUE! don't change a few letters, change a few names, turn alfonse mucha into someone else, but continue to refer to kafka as if you're forgetting this is supposed to be an imaginary place. what is this, CRACKED magazine? yes, i said CRACKED. not even MAD material, here.

i wouldn't mind this annoyance if the book hadn't made me crazy in other ways. i can't stop reading a book if i'm far enough in, and unfortunately i didn't realize i hated this
...more
Conor
Jun 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian
My first Shteyngart, and I really enjoyed it. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor, wordplay, and commentary on WASPy America. I liked that the whole nebbishy Jew trope was inverted by the main character becoming an outlaw Eastern European gangster. It did feel a bit frenetic and disconnected at times (many, especially his various lovers, seemed to be discarded without resolution throughout the book), but that could have been the fact that I listened to this on audiobook at 2x speed (read by Rider Str ...more
Sarah
Dec 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm currently reading this and laughing out loud every ten minutes and wishing I could write dialog like this. But I can't.

Okay - I finished it and loved it... but like many a debut novel, it petered out at the end. It's like - I"m not sure how to end this thing so I'll throw every idea I have out there. The scenes with whipping the Groundhog in the Banya made me laugh and laugh and I have to sadly admit, I saw some of my self in the pretentious Americans hanging around in Prava. Would that I c
...more
Tony
THE RUSSIAN DEBUTANTE’S HANDBOOK. (2002). Gary Shteynbart. ***.
I remember seeing this book in bookstores when it was first published, and thinking it might be worth a look-see. Then I forgot about it. I came across it again when it was cited in a recent book devoted to Jewish Humor (see earlier blurb). The author of the humor book used this novel as a good example of Jewish humor in the context of a saga of a young man discovering himself – but in the presence of inappropriate role models. This
...more
Bonnie
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving this book 4 stars because of its relevance to what's happening today concerning Russia. This is the third novel I've read recently that gave a picture of modern Russia and the feelings of its populace towards America, including those of immigrants. The other two books were one written by a Laotian, and Jim Webb's Lost Soldiers, which I already wrote about, and they only touched on the topic. Though the Handbook is a tongue-in-cheek adventure story about a young immigrant and his entra ...more
Josh
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ten years after its publication, I wonder if any of the critics who breathed hot steam all over The Russian Debutante's Handbook now have morning-after second thoughts. Because I don't see where Shteyngart's first novel "tops Saul Bellow's for bounce and Philip Roth's for wit." Not even close.

Granted, it's got all the properties of hot-commodity literary fiction. It's tidily crafted and smoothly written, an easy read and occasionally clever. It delivers chuckles but not a single revelation. Ther
...more
Tim Lepczyk
Gary Shteyngart revels in the absurd. Whether it is in Super Sad True Love Story , or, in this case, The Russian Debutante's Handbook , Shteyngart has an eye for the ridiculous.

In The Russian Debutante's Handbook the story follows Vladimir Girshkin, the only son of Russian immigrants, as he navigates life in New York City.  Having moved from Leningrad/St. Petersburg at the age of twelve, Vladimir has romanticized life in eastern Europe and is trying to balance his heritage with the culture of
...more
Emily
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2003
The book I read last week was first-time novelist Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook, which my father purchased for me presumably because the back of the cover says it's "as deadpan and funny as the young Evelyn Waugh" and that "Shteyngart has given us a literary symbol for this new immigrant age, much as Saul Bellow or Henry Roth did in theirs." Luckily, these pronouncements are true. You can hear Bellow in sentences like, "She turned away from him, and he was left to stare into ...more
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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.
More about Gary Shteyngart

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“I prepared for my meal in the usual fashion: fork in my left hand; my dominant right clenched into a fist on my lap, ready to punch anyone who dared take away my food.” 4 likes
“This would be the worst birthday of his life. Vladimir's best friend Baobab was down in Florida covering his rent, doing unspeakable things with unmentionable people. Mother, roused by the meager achievements of Vladimir's first quarter-century, was officially on the warpath. And, in possibly the worst development yet, 1993 was the Year of the Girlfriend. A downcast, heavyset American girlfriend whose bright orange hair was strewn across his Alphabet City hovel as if cadre of Angora rabbits had visited. A girlfriend whose sickly-sweet incense and musky perfume coated Vladimir's unwashed skin, perhaps to remind him of what he could expect on this, the night of his birthday: Sex. Every week, once a week, they had to have sex, as both he and this large pale woman, this Challah, perceived that without weekly sex their relationship would fold up according to some unspecified law of relationships.” 4 likes
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