This is all you need to know: Gary Shteyngart is the excellent author of The Russian Debutantes Handbook and Absurdistan. But book reviewers around the country (always dissatisfied, always rude) insist on pigeonholing him as a bitterly funny Russian-Jewish immigrant who writes novels about bitterly funny Russian-Jewish immigrants. The journalists dont actually come out and say Gary is bitter, but they inevitably point out that his great-great-grandfather was Nikolai Gogol, which is a euphemistic way to say Gary is bitter. And funny. And maybe a crypto-homosexual. Its not Garys fault that hes Gogols descendent and a foreigner. Thats his cross to bear, and he doesnt need the likes of Salon and the Newark Star-Ledger belittling his achievements because hes a Russian Jew with a difficult last name.
His novels (which areat the most superficial level, the level of mere wordsbitterly funny stories about immigration and Russian Jews) deploy stereotypes only to shame us with their familiarity. In Absurdistan, he describes the citizens of the eponymous country (imaginary, oil-rich, democracy-poor) as the infamous Svanï people, those lusty Southern black-asses, those Cretins of the Caucasus. When the love interest (African-American, works in a titty bar) of the protagonist (fat Russian Jew) tours St. Leninsburg, all she wants to know is Where the niggaz at? Like most poor people, Gary explains, she was less a sightseer at heart than a dedicated economist and anthropologist. Where the niggaz at? shed wanted to know. The novelist even satirizes himself, adding a lothario professor (Russian émigré Jerry Shteynfarb): He managed to use his dubious Russian credentials to rise through the ranks of the Accidental [College] creative writing department and to sleep with half the campus in the process. After graduation, he made good on his threat to write a novel, a sad little dirge about his immigrant life I think it was called The Russian Arrivistes Hand Job or something of the sort. The Americans, naturally, lapped it up. Like a literary Ali G., Garys stereotypes are stealth missilesyou think theyre pointed toward your funny bone, but at the last second they turn and hit you right in the conscience.
Shteyngart is scheduled to appear with some Arab chick.