Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (352 pgs) was named one of 100 New York Times Notable books of 2006. This is the main reason I chose to read it, for both the NY Times Notable Challenge and the Spring Reading Thing Challenge. It's not exactly the type of book I would normally pick up, although I do like a good satire. There is a lot of understated politics in this book, and to be honest, I don't know a lot about the breakup of the former Soviet Union. However, I really did enjoy this book.
The story revolves around the narrator, a man by the name of Misha Vainberg. Misha, or "Snack Daddy" as he was aptly nicknamed by his college friends, is grossly overweight, rather naive and has a lot of self-esteem issues. He is the son of Boris Vainberg, the 1238th richest man in Russia, Jewish, and a local mafioso. He gained most of his wealth and "fame" after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Boris raised Misha alone in St. Petersburg after his wife passed away. He sent Misha to the United States to be educated like an American at Accidental College in New York City. And Misha LOVED New York. He studied "multi-cultural affairs", ate lots of food, listened to rap music, and made many acquaintances - but very few friends. After graduating, Misha took an internship, and moved to a fabulous loft-apartment. It is then that he met Rouenna. Rouenna is a ghetto-girl from the Bronx who spends her days in a bikini, serving shots at a local bar. She takes an immediate liking to Misha, and sees him as a way to get out of the 'hood. Not only does she take Misha's virginity, she takes his heart.
But here is where Misha's happiness gets sidetracked. He gets called back to Russia by his father. While there, Boris kills an Oklahoma businessman. Misha finds himself stuck in St. Petersburg with no hope of getting another American Visa and going back to New York. When he father is assassinated, Misha decides to get out of Russia by any means possible. He develops a plan to buy a Belgium Passport and from there find a way back to the US. To do this, he travels to Absurdistan. But shortly after he arrives, a war breaks out over control of the Absurdi oil (hmmmm...doesn't this sound a little familiar?) Here is where all Misha's troubles seem to get exponentially worse.
This book is rather raw. There are some seriously vulgar sex scenes dealing mostly with Misha's size that were just a little TOO detailed. But there are also many extremely humorous parts, most notably Misha's circumcism at the age of 18. And I really, really liked Shteyngart's whole depiction of Absurdistan, the country. He creates two groups of warring people that are doing whatever it takes to make headlines on CNN. I have a feeling there is a lot of reality in his view's on this fictitious country. Especially as they are dealing with the US and "Golly Burton" (Halliburton). And while it takes awhile for Shteyngart to get to his point, he delivers a rather scathing attack on world politics as it applies to us today. He is a very clever author who subtlety makes his views known. And he really doesn't pull any punches. Although he describes a pretty bleak existence for Aburdistan, he does it with humor and an almost insider's view. I'm definitely going to have to read his first novel, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook". All in all I'm really glad I decided to choose this book. 4/5