- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

Or so the hero of Gary Shteyngart’s not-quite-as-funny-as-he-thinks novel “Absurdistan” would like to think. He is Misha Vainberg, a spiritually bereft, fat, materially greedy Russian who would like nothing more than to regain entre to the sunlit uplands of Western Civilization.

Funnily enough, Shteyngart’s novel is set partly in a fictionalized version of the same Central Asian country — Kazakhstan — from which a certain other pop-cultural phenom hails.

Shteyngart’s may be the more prestigious business, but gimme the genius vulgar satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat Sagdiyev, any day of the week.

I’ve been trying to make it through “Absurdistan” for months, and it’s a relatively short book. The problem is that it’s so calculating, and Misha so utterly an unconvincing creation, that I invariably put the thing down after a few pages. (I’ve since instituted a new method of reading procrastination — from now on, I’m gonna rotate one contemporary fiction novel, a classic, and a nonfiction book, either historical or biographical.)

The plot involves a civil war breaking out in Absurdistan/Kazakhstan, which necessitates a complete shutdown of all foreign travel. (How Spielbergian!) Along the way, Shteyngart lobs all sorts of knowing geopolitical potshots, such as having Absurdi/Kazakh prostitutes targeting men who work for “Golly Burton,” that is, Halliburton. Ha? As Borat would say, Not!M

What did it for me is when Shteyngart introduces a character named “Gary Shteynfarb,” who is famous for having written a book with a title similar to the author’s own debut.

How old is that trick? Thirty years? It’s boring, contrived turnoff, at any rate.

Shteyngart thinks he’s canny when he writes of oil-pipeline intrigue and such. But you know what? What is it about the oil-and-gas industry that makes left-leaning writes think the mere mention of is to conjure up a goblin-like image of unregenerate greed and evil?

I hope Kazakhstan profits greatly from its oil reserves. I mean, obviously, Borat’s impoverished countrymen need some help!

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide