Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Russian Rapper

Picture an obscenely overweight rapper in New York City.  Now picture him white, and from Russsia.  Now picture him with full access to his Beloved Papa's bank account, which is full of Papa's post-communist, new-capitalist/gangster riches.  Now picture him surrounded by women who want him.  And there you have Misha Vainberg.

Misha is the well intentioned protagonist of Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart.  Misha wants nothing more than to get back to New York and his ghetto girlfriend ("ghetto" intended as a complimentary adjective here), but his Papa has insured that the US will not issue him another visa. To avoid this obstacle, Misha attempts to become a Belgian citizen, but on the way, finds himself stuck in Absurdistan.  Republika Absurdisvani, as it is formally known, is a country created by Shteyngart, which is located somewhere between Russia and Belgium, but near Iran. 

In Absurdistan, Misha learns more about his Papa than he probably wanted to know, and confronts some issues that he had buried deep inside his toxic hump of flesh.  The country, in a parody of our Iraq war, is run by Halliburton (known to the Absurdi as "Golly Burton") and other defense contractors, with the ultimate goal of getting the US and its funds more financially invested. 

All told, I really liked this book, and especially the character of Misha.  As I was reading, I couldn't help but think that this will be made into a movie starring Zach Galifiankis.  IMDb, however, says that a movie named "Absurdistan" came out in 2008.  From reading that plot line, they either completely slaughtered Shteyngart's book, or it is based on an entirely different story.

Next Up:  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  This book has 536 pages in the hardcover version (more in paperback!) and my book group meets on May 17 to discuss it.  The odds that I will be done by then are quite slim . . .

Listening to:  Three Junes by Julia Glass

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