This is all you need to know: Gary Shteyngart is the excellent author of The Russian Debutante’s 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 don’t 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. It’s not Gary’s fault that he’s Gogol’s descendent and a foreigner. That’s his cross to bear, and he doesn’t need the likes of Salon and the Newark Star-Ledger belittling his achievements because he’s a Russian Jew with a difficult last name.

His novels (which are—at the most superficial level, the level of mere words—bitterly 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?’ she’d 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 Arriviste’s Hand Job or something of the sort. The Americans, naturally, lapped it up.” Like a literary Ali G., Gary’s stereotypes are stealth missiles—you think they’re 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.

brendan@thestranger.com