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The Russian Debutante's Handbook


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An unmissable first novel Stunning new cover for paperback

About the Author

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. He lives in New York City.


Failurchka Mother's Little Failure is what Vladimir Girshkin's overweening Russian immigrant mother calls her 25-year-old son at the beginning of this picaresque, episodic, and somewhat sprawling first novel. Vladimir is stuck in a dead-end job and saddled with girlfriend Challah, "queen of everything musky and mammal-like." Then through a series of chance encounters, he is catapulted to the eastern European city of "Prava" to find himself welcomed into the fold of powerful Mafiosi. Shteyngart introduces a large cast of exotic characters, mainly twentysomethings meandering from adventure to adventure. Yet this distinctive new voice, which is both richly ironic and often side-splittingly funny, still seems to be seeking the right register. The relentless humor and satire obscure the development of character that is necessary to make readers believe the cast is real and not just being staged. Moreover, one wonders why the author felt the need to (thinly) disguise Prague (Prava) with its river Tavlata (Vltava) and the 1969 (1968) Soviet invasion. Thus, his highly imaginative but at times maddening panorama comes to resemble a dazzling Potemkin village. Though this is not an experimental novel, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the author is still experimenting with a very large talent he's not entirely sure what to do with. But having gotten a taste, we will eagerly await his next offering, in which less just might be more. Recommended for all literary collections and larger public libraries. Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

'Rowdy, ribald, funny... Let's call this superb debut the real thing - an acute, accurate, intelligent look at America in the nineties' Esquire 'This picaresque debut transcends its personal genesis to become an all-around great American story ... If Henry Miller were Russian, this is a book he might have written' Time Out New York 'An adventurous, hilarious narrative ... Shteyngart is a supremely talented, funny and original writer' Guardian 'Witty, inventive and fast-moving ... a triumph' Daily Telegraph

Orwell once remarked that the narrator of Tropic of Cancer was so far from endeavoring to influence the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him. Shteyngart, whose sensibility is allied with Miller's, takes a passive character, Vladimir Girshkin, and makes him briefly proactivewith disastrous resultsin his smart debut novel. Vladimir is the son of immigrants who came to the U.S. via a Carter administration swap (American wheat for Russian Jews); his father, a doctor prone to dreams of suicide and complicated medical schemes, and his mother, an entrepreneur who makes fun of her son's gait, give him the inestimable gift of alienation. In true slacker fashion, Vladimir, at 25, is wasting his expensive education clerking at the Emma Lazarus Immigration Absorption Society. A client, Rybakov, bribes Vladimir to get him American citizenship, confiding that his son, the Groundhog, is a leading businessman (in prostitutes and drugs) in Pravathe Paris of the nineties in the fictional Republika Stolovaya. Vladimir fakes a citizenship ceremony for Rybakov in order to curry favor with the Groundhog. Then, because he has unwisely repelled the sexual advances of crime boss Jordi while trying to make some illicit bucks to keep his girlfriend, Francesca, in squid and sake dinners in Manhattan, Vladimir leaves abruptly for Prava. Once there, and backed by the Groundhog, Vladimir embarks on a scheme to fleece the American students who have flocked to Prava's legendary scene. Although the satire on the expatriate American community is a little too easy, Shteyngart's Vladimir remains an impressive piece of work, an amoral buffoon who energizes this remarkably mature work. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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