My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The near future depicted in this book takes some getting used to, like the sexism of Mad Men or the violence of a Tarantino film. And you never feel great about accepting this world for what it is but at least you can enjoy the ride while it lasts after a couple of chapters of desensitization (a theme of the novel itself). Gary Shteyngart appears to have once again written a part of himself into his book as Lenny Abramov, the insecure middle-aged Russian Jew clinging to his vintage clothes and printed books in a Post-Literate world where young people major in “Images” and “Assertiveness” and hope for careers in Retail or Credit—the remaining vocations of prestige in a perfectly service-oriented and paralyzingly indebted to the Chinese America.
This book proposes one extreme vision of where our world might go post-financial crisis, where we live mostly within our Facebook accounts or in scanning through whatever we can buy online on our mobile devices. We are getting dumber and the rich are getting richer. Corporations have merged with sovereign nations to rebrand whole geographies. It’s Shteyngart’s version of Idiocracy. He’s painted a fairly cohesive portrait of this world and commented on a range of issues: cowboy military deployments, superficial media personalities, hyper-sexualization, anti-intellectualism, and the Millennial need to feel like a special flower.
At it’s heart, as the title suggests, is a love story, meditating on family values and responsibility and the complexity of emotions that make us either beautifully authentic or that much more stupid. The novel’s epistolary form augments these intimate aspects. I must admit, I found it pretty absorbing and charming, as well as gross and horrifying, as Shteyngart intended it to be.
Check it out if you enjoy dystopic love stories. Fans of Snow Crash will find some familiar territory here, only with the more cyberpunk action sequences replaced by good ol’ Jewish worry.