Excerpt: Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story

Gary Shteyngart is the Sasha Baron Cohen of the literary world (though his voice sounds a lot like a younger version of Bill Murray & his profile looks more like a worn-out Salman Rushdie..)

Shteyngart's published his debut novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, in 2003. The novel relates the exploits of Vladimir Girshkin, a Jewish émigré from Russia who settles in New York and is approached by Aleksander Rybakov, another russian immigrant with ties to the mafia, who asks for Vladimir's assistance in obtaining full citizenship to the United States.

The book is hilariously funny, though it does have a tendency to drag for a little bit too long and go over the same subjects and dialogue more than once, but that's the price you (sometimes) pay for reading debut novels. Oh well..

Novels dealing with 'Russian' or 'Eastern European' characters (often colorful, drunk and speaking fractured English) have been all the rage for the past 10 years or so. Suffice it to mention Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated (2002); 
Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2006) & DBC Pierre's Ludmila's Broken English (2007)and you begin to recognize a well planned trend here. 

Shteyngart followed the success of Handbook with Absurdistan (2006), a sequel and parody of the charcters described in his debut novel as well as of the author himself (In the novel, Handbook and its author are parodied: the novel's renamed as The Russian Arriviste's Handjob, the work of one "Jerry Shteynfarb") 

The book was met (again) with great critical success: Absurdistan was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and Time Magazine. 

Now (well, 2 months ago :) Shteyngart brings us Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel, a novel which, well at least according to his editor in Random House, "easily outshines his last two novels". The title itself seems to have been ripped from the Seth Rogan 'future films I want to shoot' sketch-book (if such a sketch book does indeed exist.. 

What's it about, you ask? Well, one could read it as a near-future Dystopia.

As Amazon interview Shteyngart's held with Omnivoracious podcast editor makes you understand, this is a William Gibson (though he's not writing any SF novels anymore..) meets Lev Tolstoy (though he's never really written any love novels..) meets Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City (not another NY Semi-SF novel!!) sort of novel.. 

Set in 'the day after tomorrow' New York (a city which, at least according to Shteyngart, "has nothing to do with this country") when "semi-illiterate America completely collapses" & where "the dollar has been pegged to the yuan, the American Restoration Authority is on high security alert, and Lenny Abramov, the middle-aged possessor of a decent credit score but an absurdly low--and embarrassingly public--Male Hotness rating, is in love with the young Eunice Park" Super Sad True Love Story is, in essence, also a love story, as the title suggests (though, as Shteyngart attests, "It's hard to write about love cos' that's all that's been written since the beginning of time".) 

It's also Super sad, which makes it even more susceptive to cynics.. 

But it's Shteyngart's emotional sincerity, nicely cooped up with a rare Academic-Speech weird appeal that saves this book from total hipster'ness.

VERDICT: BUY IT (cos' it sounds like so much fun!) 

More (well, not really.. but still!!) on the subject: Nick Bilton's I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works

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