Monday, September 24, 2012

Snack Daddy Gives the ‘Russian Arriviste Hand Job’

"Absurdistan,” by Gary Shteyngart, 2007 

This is another book praised by the New York, Seattle & Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, the New York Observer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and even our own lame Minneapolis Star Tribune, which called it, “Hip and Hilarious.”  Which they know a thing or two about!

I agree this is a funny book, and I don’t mind poking fun at drunken Russians, crooked killer Azerbijanis and over-ripe ghetto girls. Even Halliburton, American Express and KBR come in for locked-on funny shotgun blasts.  But, as the philosophers say. let us ‘deconstruct.’ 

This is certainly a fucked-up, crazy world, and if they weren’t shooting everyone, it would be even funnier. 

“Snack Daddy,” or Misha Vainberg, is a gargantuan Jewish over-eater trapped in St. Leninsburg in Putin time, rapping about vaginas and spending money like the son of the 1,273rd richest man in Russia.  Which he is.  Daddy, a Yeltsin ‘primitive accumulation’ gangster, is blown up on a bridge over the Neva in Leninsburg, and Misha falls into depression.  Misha spent his college education in the U.S. at Accidental College, which is somewhere between Oberlin and Antioch in the Midwest of Ohio, majoring in multiculturalism.  Of which there is no Russian word.  He longs for New York City and his puta, Rouenna, a Bronx Dominican hybrid that wears thongs and talks ghetto.  You know, of course, the author is a Manhattan jack-off just from this premise.  So young Vainberg (vain, get it?) wants to get back to the U.S., or at least Europe proper, to be with his Rouenna.  But he cannot, because gangster dad killed an Oklahoman - which might not have been a bad thing, of course.  So Misha has to go to Absurdistan – somewhere on the Caspian Sea and somewhere in an ex-oil city like Baku – to get a bribed Belgian passport, and get the hell out of that so-called shithole, Russia.

The whole point is to eat, drink and be merry, which is supposedly a whole lot easier in the United States.

That is the premise.  We’ve covered Russia before, in reviews of “Life & Fate” by Vasily Grossman; “Soviet Women – Walking the Tightrope,” “Enemy at the Gates,” about the battle of Stalingrad, and “Reinventing Collapse,” by Dimitry Orlov (search for all reviews below) – but never on the humor trail.  And actually, no book was as hostile to Russia or Russians as this one, in its fond way. 

This guy Vainberg eats all the time, loves American rap music, loves spending money, attends telephone talk therapy, and perhaps could be a mirror for all the upscale American youth and New York hipsters that will never read this book.  But he’s a sympathetic character, so you forgive the subterranean American satire.  He’s a dedicated atheist, and that is a relief, and he even has a jones for the Soviet Red Army. The main targets are drunken, confused Russians; scheming Azerbaijanis, Texan whore mongers from KBR; and fulsome ghetto girls – in fact all girls, who are mostly moving vaginas.  This could be the true vagina monologue.  Russia, Azerbaijan, and all the other ‘stans’ around the Caspian come in for appropriate ridicule by a somewhat sophisticated American writer who spent a lot of time holed up in various writers retreats.

Absurdistan is in the middle of a war between two ethnic groups that are almost identical, the Svani and the Sevo.  One insists the footrest for Christ’s crucifixion cross tips to the left and the other insist it tips to the right.  The Svani are sheep-fuckers and the Sevo are merchants.  The real difference is, of course, who gets an empty oil pipeline through their land.  In a break from the personal story, Vainberg in his ignorance sides with the Sevo, as much as he might value a sheep now and then, and ends up being appointed the Minister of ‘Multi” Cultural Affairs and Emissary to Israel, or some such thing.  His main pro-Israeli project was to build a … holocaust museum.  (See review of "The Holocaust Industry," below.) Ah, you plugged in muthafucka, you.

Later Misha discovers the real reasons for the war, which involve the Department of Defense, USAID, the UN and Bechtel, and escapes Absurdistan with the help of American Express and the Mountain Jews. 

In the end the New York sophisticates, and the rest of us Americans can laugh at the dumb Dominicans, the whorish Absurdi women, the chauvinist and ruthless Absurdi men, billowing Rick Ross track suits, stupid Texans, sad Russian culture and piles of over-eaten food, and feel good about ourselves.  They – and we - are not really the targets.  You see, Misha loves New York.  So who got the hand-job from the Russian arriviste?

NEWS P.S. - If you want to know the real world of Azerbaijan, a recent news event could shed some light.  NATO held a English training event in Budapest, where among others, Azerbaijanis and Armenians were participating.  An Azerbijani killed an Armenian in his sleep with his axe.  The Azeris do not believe the Armenian genocide every happened, and evidently, Azeris really really hate Armenians.   Or as some like to call them, "The Jews of the Central Asia."   The Azerbiajanis are mostly believers in Shia Islam while the Armenians are the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity.   Well, the Hungarians had to put the Azeri in jail for life, after conviction.  The Hungarians under Orban finally let the Azeri go for 'humanitarian reasons."  Hungary was hoping for an oil deal in a swap for Hungarian government bonds.  The Azerbijani went back home to a hero's welcome, was pardoned at the airport, promoted to higher military rank and got, get this, back pay for his time in jail.  He was welcomed by a huge crowd as a national hero.  A few days later the Azeribaijanis told Hungary they were not going to buy any Hungarian bonds.

In Yerevan, Hungarian flags got burnt.  Not sure if the Hungarians were burning Azeri flags.. And so you see - Absurdistan really does exist.

And I did not buy it at May Day Books.
Red Frog
September 24, 2012

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