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The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002)

The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002)
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3.5 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
1573229881 (ISBN13: 9781573229883)
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riverhead trade
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The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002)
The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002)

About book: Somewhere in the middle of this book I wanted to hate it. For reasons unrelated to the book. Or the authorial style. Or the story. I just fell sick. Deep into the night, while the world around me was quietly asleep, I walked in and out of my room. It's 3. Now its 4. And shall it be 6 or 7 when the light is adequate. When Nairobi rises from its slumber. This pain. So terrible. (Perhaps I shouldn't say where, in my mortal body, the pain racked,scaring the shit off me. Easy to loose your body. Don't stuff it with suspect things!) Anyway, on to The Russian Debutante's Handbook. At the risk of a tainted, if somewhat unfair review. Considering the circumstances, if you know what I mean. "Everything will go right, if you should follow what mama says'Wrongly paraphrased, of course. But Vladimir Girshkin, this mid twenties American, Rushian, Jew... is under some serious pressure from his mama to perform. And back to his 'sweet' romantic life lies Challah, the ultimate source of his unhappiness. Undefined, I guess. What's up with all that K-Y! Then comes the day of his change. Say this aging Russian guy shows up at his work place, with a proposal of making him into 'something,'in exchange for something. The American Citizenship. Follow the usual second and third thought in Vladimir's mind. He's broke. His other woman is hard to sustain. Cash is scarce. His mind boils with lots of sums of making it all possible. Then come the weak spot and off Vladimir is gone to some place in Europe where he meets the man's son Groundhog. Skip review. Here my stomach is collecting the deepest and sharpest aspects of pain, telling me heaven is across the frontier. Just give up. And end, in hell....So Vladimir arrives in Prava where he develops a grand scheme of defrauding Americans of their money. And the dude works it quite well with Groundhog and party. Soon they swim in money. Soon the world is at their feet. Soon its is all beginning to falling apart. And in the ugliness of it comes a girl who falls in love with a man reading a poem. The girl -Morgan. The guy - Vladimir. When Morgan meets the people who Valdmir is associating with, she is far from impressed.I visit the Chemist again. Perhaps those, what are they called? perhaps not the horse shit that comes into Prava from the states to fuck up "innocents"... i just need a damn pain killer.Back to Vladimir. Groundhog's father Rybokov is discovered not to be American, after all those letters to the New York Times. And now he is after Vladmir and his. And his son is equally pissed. So Vladimir world comes tumbling down.One more shot for the pain.Read. read to the end. Morgan is at home waiting. Growing within her is a baby. Vladimir's son. The boy Vladimir hopes will be, say, the right kind of American.Worst review ever penned by this hand. Whoever said pain can bring out the best in writers? Need some sleep.Have I reviewed this book? It is well written. It is detailed and at times funny, with a keen eye at the ever expanding possibility of the English language. It reminds me of cheap oh not cheap but popular, no, no, just some American movies featuring Russian Mafioso. Sleep.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart is a humorous fantasy about a Russian immigrant who is trying to find himself, and usually finds himself in hot water. The hero/narrator is one Vladimir Girshkin, who finds himself in a dead-end job and an unsatisfying relationship. He dreams for something better, but the advice of his friends leads him, on one hand, to Florida, where he infuriates a Catalan mobster by refusing to be his catamite. Then -- on the advice of a highly suspect Russian named Rybakov -- he goes to the Stolovan Republic (a kind of generic east European country on the model of the Czech Republic) where Rybakov's son, the Groundhog, is in charge of the local rackets.In Prava, capital of Stolovan, Vladimir and the Groundhog set up a highly successful pyramid scheme, until the Groundhog turns on him. In the end, he ends up where I began, in Cleveland, Ohio, married to his American terrorist girlfriend he met in Prava:Downtown Cleveland. Its three major skyscrapers standing above the cosmopolitan wreckage of factories aching to be nightclubs and chain restaurants; the squat miniskyscrapers that look as if they had been cut short in their prime; the hopeful grandeur of municipal buildings built at a time when the transport of hogs and heifers promised the city a commercial elegance that had expired with the animals... But, somehow, this city has persevered against the unkind seasons and the storms that gather speed over Lake Erie. Somehow, Cleveland has survived, with her grey banner unfurled -- the banner of Archangelsk and Detroit, of Kharkov and Liverpool -- the banner of men and women who would settle the most ignominious parts of the earth, and there, with the hubris born neither of faith nor ideology but biology and longing, bring into the world their whimpering replacements.Yep, that's Cleveland, all right-- except I don't know about the hogs and heifers. More like car parts and machine tools, but Shteyngart's mostly right.This is a very funny book, but it tends to get goofy in parts. What keeps it worth reading is Shteyngart's wild imagination in depicting the American and the Eastern European scenes. His Vladimir ranges from a schlemiel to a picaro as we progress through his efforts to find a love and a life in a strange land, wherever it may be.
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Reviews
Judy
I read Gary Shteyngart's debut novel at fever pitch because I started it late for a reading group discussion. Fever pitch was the correct approach; it matches the pace of the story.In the grand tradition of immigrant novels, Vladimir Girshkin is a young man of Russian descent adrift in a sea of confusion. He works at an immigrant resettlement agency in New York City, making non-profit wages. His girlfriend is a dominatrix by night, his father is an MC who scams Medicare, and his mother-well I never figured out exactly what it was she did but she was trying to beat the Russian immigrant odds in the 1990s by going straight.I suppose the novel isn't for everyone. The two reading group members who showed up at the meeting at least tried but "couldn't get into it." I loved it the way I loved Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March; the way I loved Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker; the way I loved Isaac Asimov's autobiography In Memory Yet Green. The book is part of a huge story called "How I Became an American" fraught with identity crises, family strife, and hilarity.The post-Soviet Union Russian criminal element is well represented but done with heavy sarcasm. A good part of the story is set in Prague, that city's celebrated Baroque soul swamped in the tatters of two world wars and one Cold War. Shteyngart's Eastern European characters are raised to a level of slapstick often seen in film but rarely in novels.It was not clear to me whether Vladimir actually found himself or love or even a career, but he found safety. Just writing this now it occurs to me that safety is the rarest commodity of all for an immigrant. Rather than riches or enough to eat or religious freedom, safety is in the end what the displaced person craves most.
Jennie
Shteyngart is a tricky bastard. It's like he's hugging you with one arm while pushing you away with the other. His protagonists are just relatable enough that you can see yourself in them, but unappealing enough that you wish you didn't. His plots are engaging enough to hold your interest but implausible enough to perplex you. He sense of humor makes you smirk and grimace at the same time. You keep rooting for a happy ending, even though you're pretty sure nobody deserves it. Every book he writes leaves me feeling conflicted, but I keep going back, because he's smart and we share an alma mater. And I'm never really sorry I go back, just a wee bit guilty.This was my first encounter with Shteyngart. I liked it enough to pick up his next book, so that's something. But writing this review made me feel like I have to go and scale back my review of Absurdistan.
Corey
I found a dusty copy of this book lying unattended to on my mother's bookshelf, sandwiched between Updike and Dickens, believe it or not. I believe what drew me in was a blurb on the back comparing Shtyngart to Saul Below.Indeed, the plot is analogous to The Adventures of Augie March (and in fact, I think there are a couple of allusions to that great novel in Shtyngart's novel), but if you go into this one looking for something akin to the beauty and flawlessness of Bellow's prose, you'll be disappointed, as I was. The Russian Debutante's Handbook is weighed down by cliches and characters of shallow depth (Morgan and Cohen come to mind). That said, a more apt comparison might pit Shtyngart against Gogol. The author, like his Russian predecessor, clearly has a knack for satire, for establishing the absurdity of this world, for mourning a loss of culture, and for warning against getting caught up in feeling superior to it; we're all fools, after all. This is a fun read, and I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times, but in the end, Shtyngart made it longer than it needed to be, and mistakenly tried to turn it into something of a thriller towards the very end (I refer, of course, to the 20+ page car-chase in the last chapter). Maybe I came into this one with the bar set too high, but I do think this is quite an accomplishment for a first novel and I am curious to read his next one.
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