Casey's Reviews > Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
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Dec 08, 2010

did not like it

03/10/17 - Seven years later, my review is apparently still very popular. Take THAT, people who thought they left their marks via important, world-changing accomplishments!

Re: my feelings on his portrayal of immigrants and how they write - I'm descended from a million generations of hill folk white people who have been in America for over 300 years, and my closest immigrant experience relates to my Irish grandparents who died before I was born and spoke English. I know nothing about how immigrant parents communicate, and according to many commenters, he was spot-on with his portrayal. It still feels gross to me for this white dude to detail this in his book, though.

UPDATE: 1/2/11 - Random troll reminded me I had never done a full review of this book.

I had so many problems with this book I have trouble narrowing it down into something concise. The main character, Lenny Abraham, is just awful. Kind of sort of so is Gary Shteyngart. (Surprise! They're both children of Russian immigrants and I'd bet money that Gary lives in Manhattan. And by the end of the novel, both are published authors!) The book presents an America of the not-too-distant-future via what Shteyngart must think is oh so clever satire - women wear OnionSkin jeans (sheer pants worn without underwear) and shop at AssLuxury and JuicyPussy; no one reads actual books because they "smell." Everyone carries around tiny mobile devices called Apparats (there are some umlauts in there but I just don't give a fuck), which broadcast all your most intimate details while also acting as your blackberry/videophone/deusexmachina. As a sci-fi fan, the thing that bothered me most about Apparats was a complete lack of explanation as to how they worked. They're described as being the size of a necklace pendant. How is anyone reading off of that?

And maybe due to my wrong approach or wrong focus, I just didn't "get" it. But what is there to get? Shteyngart mocks Fox News and corporate oligarchy. Every time young Eunice Park emails her Korean mother, Mrs. Park responds in such a poorly-worded manner, I felt racist just reading it (seriously Gary, the woman's lived in America for 20 years. There is no reason for every email of hers to read like a shitty 80's comedian bit - YOU BIN HEAH FOW OWAS!) Every time Lenny points out a misspelled sign to his dear readers, it's one that's been written by a group that is surely ESL. The book is broken up between 2 points of view - Lenny's journal entries and Eunice's emails/chats. Eunice is shallow and manipulative and supremely fucked up in regards to relationships, and if the entire book were from her perspective, I still would've had an awful time getting through it. But Lenny was just so repulsive, I found myself anticipating her chapters as a breath of fresh air.

But I digress. In short: awful book I only finished because I paid for it. I've read a lot of books, and I've read a lot of ACTUAL super sad true love stories. This was just super, sad, and stupid.


According to my Kindle, I'm 20% into this book. With every page turn, I keep summoning my inner Dworkin and repeating, mantra-like, "This book was definitely written by a white male."
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Comments (showing 1-25)

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Emily Intrigued that you hated this so much, especially coming a few hours after my Korean-American friend from HS gave it 5 stars... Have you read anything else by Shteyngart? I think if you read this as sci-fi, you'd be guaranteed to hate it. Shteyngart specializes in taking the self-loathing Jewish antihero and putting him in colorfully absurd situations. In the two previous books, that was a foreign country. In this case, the absurdity happens here, but in the future. I don't think it's meant to be a fully fledged or coherent "world" so much as a series of vignettes or observations about living in a repellently exaggerated version of the present day.

message 24: by Jenna (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenna Ryn wrote: "This isn't a review; it's a "verbal" for help. What a super sad world you must live in, stranger."
The fact that you used "verbal" as if it was actually a noun outside of Shteyngart's book is much more sad than this review.

message 23: by Kate (new)

Kate Ryn, people don't like books all the time. If you can't read a negative review of a book without making judgements and freaking out, maybe you shouldn't be on Good Reads?

Emily Casey's original review wasn't really a review because she wasn't even a quarter of the way through; it was a little progress note. Also, she obviously wasn't saying that she didn't like it because it was written by a white male. She was saying she didn't like it because it was obviously by a white male, which, coupled with her mention of Dworkin, was an obvious humorous shorthand for a whole range of problems that one could have with this book from a feminist perspective. In conclusion, "obvious."

Emily Ryn wrote: "whose work -- according to you -- she hasn't even finished"

Yes, when she initially said she was 20% done with the book, that was a sure tip-off to me that she had not finished reading it. You're going to a fair amount of trouble yourself to defend your troll-like and unilluminating original comment.

message 20: by Kate (new)

Kate Hey Ryn, you look like a bigger jerk the more you comment whether you intend to or not. You overreacted to a note that you found offensive. Everyone gets it. Give it a rest.

message 19: by Casey (new) - rated it 1 star

Casey Emily wrote: "Intrigued that you hated this so much, especially coming a few hours after my Korean-American friend from HS gave it 5 stars... Have you read anything else by Shteyngart?"

This was my first go with a book of his, because SSTLS seemed to collect such positive reviews. I saw your friend's review and will admit that perhaps as a total WASP, a Jewish protagonist in love with a 1st gen Korean American doesn't necessarily strike a chord with me. Maybe from your friend's perspective, a young girl getting emails from her mother that read like, "Mommy so proud you!~ You do good job make smart at school!" is hilarious, but I was pretty much horrified that this book was written in the 21st century.

Charity Stellar review of this super, suckass story. :)

Clara LOL.. I'm Emily's friend who loved the book. It really resonated with me because my mom (who *just* learned how to email 2 years ago) writes EXACTLY the way Euny's mom does. I honestly felt as if I were reading emails from my own mother -- who has been in the US for 36 years, and is highly educated (a US board certified physician). I didn't find the writing racist or poorly worded at all. I found it eerily accurate. It was literally like Shteyngart was in my head.

In fact, here is an actual email from my mom, totally unedited:

Hi, Clara
How is everyone doing? What is prize if answer is correct? 25 cents for lemonade? send me another picture of your house? at least some sort of reward, right?

I told you I could not go to Korea because I was not feel good with my ear although ear tube was intact and also headache for 2 weeks( I still have off and on.) I exercised neck and limb movement for 10 min every morning I probably did wrong way. Anyway,one week of my vacation was already scheduled.

The B&B was ok was 150 years old house with very sqeaky floor. It has old charm and by the cannal. We have whole third floor but the bathroom was very small. Have you removed all the wall papers? Has work on bathroom start? Anyway don't work too hard.

Don't you think one cat is enough? You think Muus is lonely when you and Graham are at work, but he must be sleeping when he is alone.I like the dog, small one that you can carry around easily. But dog requires a lot of responsibility, specially the puppy. But why another cat, it's boring. I can hear you say MOM---- you are wrong.Anyway, whatever!

Love you and pray for you always, mom.

You can be sure that if I were taking the LSAT, my mom would be riding my ass for not studying hard enough. My parents, after all, did buy me my first SAT prep book in 3rd grade. Every night from 1st grade until I took the SATs, I had to memorize 10 new words from the dictionary. The sad thing is that I was sort of late in getting my first SAT prep book, in comparison to my other Korean American friends.

In addition, the Jewish New Yorker-Asian fetish thing is so well known in NYC that it would be more of a joke were it not so true. I have countless stories of getting great deals because I didn't mind some Jewish guy with an obvious Asian fetish leering at me every once in a while. I think the epitome of the Jewish NYC'er-Asian fetish was when I was actually featured in one of Craigslist "missed connections" ads. It was written by (guess) a Jewish guy who was standing behind me in the local Rite Aid and didn't work up the courage to talk to me. He later wrote a missed connections ad that 500 of my friends all saw and forwarded to me. Really, the only thing he noticed about me was that I was Asian. The ad read something like "me: Jewish guy in late 20's standing behind you at Rite Aid. You: hot asian girl wearing red "staff" t-shirt." Trust, me, if you ever met me, I'm NOT hot at all. Plus, I was on break from my job at the climbing gym, covered in chalk and really sweaty wearing a very shapeless gym uniform. He just saw the Asian and fell in love. Talk about creepy fetish!

So perhaps the failing of this book is that you had to have lived in NYC, or known a good number of Asian folks who did to really get why this book is so awesome. I can warrant that this book might not have a super broad audience, but trust me --- it really rings true. It's not horrifying that the book was written in the 21st century, it's a pretty accurate portrayal of how some of us live. Sanitizing the English would be tantamount to burying your head in the sand and ignoring the fact that the US is still a land of immigrants, some of whom don't have perfect grammar. It's like the whole Huck Finn editing scandal, where they are trying to edit out n----- because it might offend people. Well, it bleaches out some of our colorful history.

message 16: by Diane (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane Thanks for sharing! I love your review and connection with Euny's mom! She was the bright spot in the book for me.

Allison Clara wrote: "LOL.. I'm Emily's friend who loved the book. It really resonated with me because my mom (who *just* learned how to email 2 years ago) writes EXACTLY the way Euny's mom does. I honestly felt as if..."

omg clara, that e-mail from your mother is amazing. also after reading your whole comment, i can't wait to read this book now.

message 14: by Casey (new) - rated it 1 star

Casey Clara wrote: "LOL.. I'm Emily's friend who loved the book."

I don't suggest the language be "sanitized" to not offend me. But it did irk me that our narrative guide is educated and verbose and well-read Larry Abraham, and then we have Eunice's mom. And Eunice's friend with her spelling/grammar errors. And every time Larry pointed out a poorly worded protest sign, it was written by an immigrant. It's not that I believe American immigrants speak perfect English (every day I walk by a bodega that offers "coofee and sandwhices"), it's that I know there are just as many born-and-bred Americans who fuck it up even worse. (I know this, because today I looked at facebook.) It's not the writing itself; it's the "Othering" of it by Larry.
Also, I was lead to believe that there was a love story. Lenny was a schlub. He's not good at ANYTHING. He stalks and harasses Eunice, who agrees to stay with him because she needs a place to crash while she tries to protect her family from her abusive father. She likes him because he's the man in her life who doesn't treat her like total shit. Swoon.
The satire was nothing original or clever. I get the impression Shteyngart thinks he's Orwell; he's just O'Reilly.

Larry Buhl Yeah the race/racism issue is definitely part of the book, but it is not clear what the author's intent is. To portray the U.S. as a more racist society? To show that economic downfall has led to a more racially polarized place? My copy was bought used, with every fourth line underlined in purple - ACK! And in the margins about two dozen times was written "racist." So maybe it's being read in schools now.

Samantha Newman Admittedly I only glanced through these reviews, but it seems like this Ryn guy- he must have loved the book and was personally offended that someone else didn't. I gotta say I think I agree with this review on a lot of points. I gave up on page 93. But it didn't seem all that imaginative, and call me stupid, which I don't think I am, but I felt like there wasn't ENOUGH explanation about this world, and usually I prefer little explanation. I have read a lot of post-apocalyptic stuff, and a lot of his WordCombinations / names for companies, etc., felt really repetitive. Like copies off of Margaret Atwood's stuff. Maybe she copied off of him though. Doubt it.

Amanda This review is a perfect expression of my feelings toward this book.

message 10: by Donovan (new)

Donovan Honestly, I didn't have a problem with Casey's review. She seemed to stick to the content fairly well and grilled Shteyngart for what could be construed as racist and sexist, at least based upon the speaker. Just because you don't identify or even respect a review doesn't mean you should call into question whether it is a review at all. Seriously, just chill.

Lexie Yes. Just, YES to this review.

Kelsey McKim I COMPLETELY agree. To every point. Thank you.

Sheen Sanz why did you guys hate the book. i loved it. i feel like a person with bad taste in books cause so much people hated it. yeah it was racist and sexist but it was really entertaining for me. while reading the book, what i was thinking was that he meant it to be like that (ppl are racist, sexist, shopaholics, girls wear onionskins. i dont even know what onionskins are) to show how that supposed future is just the same as 21st century american society? i think im wrong. but it felt like the only differences from the book's america vs present-day america was the äppäräts and the rating other people.

i should really not read reviews. or learn to take these reviews with a grain of salt. yeah i should do the latter one. anyways, i still loved the book. just felt kinda sad seeing how so many people hated it lol.

the desking ceremony chant was my favorite. sometimes i pray and i say "joshie" instead of "jesus"

may joshie (sic) lend me some of his immortality and maybe lenny can lend me some of his personality

fire up that eggplant!!!
wow i know so many references...i can be funny in a world where people like this oddly-titled book

message 5: by Shevonne (last edited Jan 20, 2015 05:47AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Shevonne Don't feel that way. It's like that saying goes "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." There are books that I've loved that many people have hated. It's the reason we are not pod people. :D

Sheen Kayper wrote: "why did you guys hate the book. i loved it. i feel like a person with bad taste in books cause so much people hated it. yeah it was racist and sexist but it was really entertaining for me. while re..."

Sheen Sanz Shevonne wrote: "Don't feel that way. It's like that saying goes "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." There are books that I've loved that many people have hated. It's the reason we are not pod people. :D


hey thanks =) i do agree with you. anyways what does "pod people" mean?

message 3: by Alice (new) - added it

Alice Just happened on your review. I didn't like a lot of aspects of the book either, but I felt the need to respond to "feeling racist just reading" his portrayal of Mrs. Park's written English. The language he used actually struck me as being observant and true. My parents who are both educated immigrants from China both write in English that way. They came here in the '80s, when they were in their 30s. There are better things to "feel racist" about than a Russian-American author writing in the voice of a middle-aged Korean immigrant woman. My dad got a PhD from a well regarded American university and has worked in American companies since then, and he doesn't spell everything correctly and uses ESL-inflected grammar. My mom also loves "Jesu" and unlike Mrs. Park she isn't a housewife but took continuing ed classes here and became a controller at a company...sometimes I wonder how her colleagues are able to understand her emails. Do you have any experience learning another language? You don't always get the full package - fluent speech doesn't mean literacy. I'm not attacking you or your position in the review, but I hope that knowing that even intelligent and highly educated immigrants do in fact write like that makes you more open minded.

As I remember it, the misspelled signs don't belong to just what you call "ESL" groups but sometimes official texts. Eunice's writing is sometimes misspelled but she is a native speaker and college graduate. I believe the author's intent was to show the degradation of written language, an important theme. The main character is ostracized because he reads physical books, whereas the new generation only "scans" texts. The tone changes in the epilogue which included some literary criticism and seemed to imply that books became mainstream again. As a consequence of the move from written language to imaging and streaming, younger people have lost some of confines of formal English and less common words are shown in the book as being spelled according to how they sound - unless they were written by nerd-face. One of the first sentences of the book is the GlobalTeens advice to image instead of messaging. I think the GlobalTeens message implied that people don't find writing sexy anymore. Also, I think the book mentioned the Apparats including projections. You might have missed some of the details when you were reading.

message 2: by Alice (new) - added it

Alice Well now that I think about it, the assumption behind your statement is offensive. Do you expect everyone who lives here for 20 years to write like you do? Adult immigrants? And why should they? Many communities and languages exist in this country.

Casey Alice wrote: "Well now that I think about it, the assumption behind your statement is offensive. Do you expect everyone who lives here for 20 years to write like you do? Adult immigrants? And why should they? Ma..."

Life is a rich tapestry, I don't expect everyone to come here and write like I do and speak a flawless American Midwestern accent. But traditionally, when white people try to mirror a foreign accent - even if that's how the person whose speech they're repeating actually sounds - it's kind of racist. And I'm seven years removed from the book and writing this review, but if I recall correctly, reading his long chapters felt like the literary version of "white guy doing Indian accent."

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