A Wayward Son Checks in With Mother Russia

Posted on October 25, 2010


Technically this should also be filed under “United States” as well, but on to the point, a great NYT article about Russian-American writer Gary Shteyngart. I’ve been meaning to read “Absurdistan” for a long time.

MOSCOW — It was late in the Brezhnev era when a boy named Igor Semyonovich Shteyngart took up writing at the urging of his grandmother, who rewarded him for his labors with bits of cheese. Inspired by a statue of Lenin near his home, he scribbled a fairy tale called “Lenin and His Magical Goose.” Perhaps you will read it someday. The title characters meet, become friends and decide to invade Finland together to set up a glorious Soviet republic there.

But the two squabble, and Lenin eats the goose.

The boy soon emigrated — Igor of Leningrad became Gary of Little Neck, Queens — but he never lost his zeal for rummaging through the recent history of his motherland for material, and then recasting it as farce. So it was that Mr. Shteyngart, now a widely praised author in the United States, returned this month to Russia to do an informal book tour and, notebook in hand, look for inspiration.

“The thing about Russia is that, for a satirist, it’s almost too easy,” he told an audience in Moscow after reading from his new novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” which revolves around the relationship between Lenny, a son of Soviet immigrants, and Eunice, daughter of Korean ones. The setting is a futuristic America in bedraggled decline, but, as Mr. Shteyngart points out, he learned everything that he needed to know about decaying superpowers from the collapse of you know what. “Having Russia and America — these two giant empires — under your belt, as a writer, you can’t ask for anything better,” he said.

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photo: Mark Coggins