Gary Shteyngart | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
comment

Vladimir Girshkin, the hapless hero of Gary Shteyngart's first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook (Riverhead, 2002), is born in Leningrad, moves with his parents to the United States as a child, and gets schooled in the folkways of the upper middle class in New York City and at a bucolic Ohio liberal arts college. By the time he's 25 he's an insecure, nervous, gloomy citizen of nowhere in particular. After falling victim to a completely improbable chain of events involving a socially demanding Fifth Avenue girlfriend, his best friend's drug-dealing boss, and a batty fellow emigre who talks to his bedroom fan, he flees to post-Soviet eastern Europe and seizes the opportunity to reinvent himself--this time as a success. A careening, picaresque tale that reads like Mikhail Bulgakov meets Elmore Leonard, the novel goes on to track Vladimir's perpetually hungover adventures in Prava, a Slavic city overrun with globe-trotting hipsters and opportunistic mafiya. Shteyngart's an exuberant storyteller with a pitch-perfect ear for the ridiculous: the landscape of Prava is dominated by a gigantic statue of Stalin's foot. But Vladimir's desperate, improvised attempts to secure a place for himself in the world are more than just entertaining capers; his quest is also an allegory for eastern Europe's own late-20th-century identity struggles. Shteyngart reads from The Russian Debutante's Handbook (which came out in paperback last month) on Thursday, June 5, at 7:30 PM at Barbara's Bookstore, 1100 Lake in Oak Park, 708-848-9140.

Add a comment