Shteyngarts

Exhibit 6.1

Absurdistan

Well, you should be reading Gary Shteyngart’s second novel now instead of wasting your time here. It’s exactly the sort of hysterical, profane satire that doesn’t come up a lot any more. Or, if it does, it usually targets celebrity or media or something small and fleeting and American. Shteyngart’s book targets those things to–at least in a way–but his obese, America-loving Russian oligarch stumbles into a bigger story of oil and politics in a crumbling former Soviet state named Absurdistan.

Misha, the oligarch, is an insatiable glutton for anything that comes his way–food, affection, conflict, etc.–and his beloved adopted country of America holds the largest excess of his vices. Struggling to obtain a visa to return to New York, he gets stuck in a staged civil war between Absurdistan’s two not-at-all distinct religious factions who are after the country’s rich oil reserves and the wealthy Halliburton contracts they’ll bring. An empathetic child in a fat man’s body, Misha’s money allows him to avoid recognizing the actors that create the world’s problems which he believes hurt him deeply. He thinks he understands hunger but he’s nearly orgasmic when feasting. He thinks he understands diaspora but only sees it in his own displacement from America.

Shteyngart keeps Misha sympathetic and where most authors might have slowly stripped him of his money and health, Shteyngart makes him complicit in the devastation of the country around him until the wall of his weight and money finally cracks and the world comes in. It’s a book about oil and greed and democracy, but mostly it’s about the loss of reason and principle in the selfish quest of a country, of a man, for wealth.

Oh, it’s also hilarious and remarkably well-written.

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Exhibit 4.22

Post-Gre Lit Reading List.

So, I’d more or less been reading for the Literature Subject Exam for about a year. I knew it wouldn’t really help me on the test–of all the classic literature I read only one question about the Iliad and one about Wuthering Heights came up–but I wanted to fill in some holes in my education anyway. I learned I like Dickens. Not so much Melville (at some point I’m going to have to explore why this is before I start crying the next time someone says Moby Dick changed their life. I used to feel this way when my parents said they loved cantaloupe). Also, I discovered the The Good Soldier which squared the GRE and I.

I’m now going back to contemporary fiction. I figure I’ll start with some of the recent big hits and then work my way into some more obscure things. If anyone has any thoughts on these or suggestions for other books, please let me know:

Haruki Murakami, After Dark (and the stories I haven’t read in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman)
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Michael Chabon, Yiddish Policeman’s Union
Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan

Of course, before that I have to finish The Tin Drum which I’ve been reading on and off for approximately as long as it took to write it. And yesterday I bought Ben Marcus’s Age of Wire and String, this in addition to quite a few other books I purchased during my hiatus. I can barely keep myself from smirking at all the Henry James on my bookshelf.

3 Comments / Posted in Reading, Shteyngarts, Time