“It’s so funny. And full of pathos, too. Just how I like it!”
Just the title, Absurdistan, tells you an awful lot about this book. It is comic and wry; a very good kind of satire. Misha Vainberg is a Jew, raised in Russia, educated at a liberal arts college in the American Midwest (Accidental College – ha!) and returned to Russia for what looks like the duration when his visa was not renewed. His father was part businessman, part gangster and the legacy he leaves to Misha is that of a Jew in exile first in Russia and then in fictional Absurdistan. Throughout Misha is at best pathetic – vastly overweight, disfigured by a botched adult circumcision, and longing for his sweetheart Rouenna and her Brooklyn to which he is unable to return. There are too many bits in the book to list, but it gives you a taste of the humor to know that Misha’s father once sold an 800 kg screw to a Halliburton subsidiary for $5 million. The commentary on US involvement in the Middle East and the new capitalism of Russia is enough to keep the book really interesting. Add to it what seem to be semi-autobiographical elements (Misha’s nemesis is Jerry Shteynfarb) and it’s a winner all the way around. At one point in Absurdistan a character describes the fictional Shteynfarb’s work as being “so funny. And full of pathos, too. Just how I like it. Homeboy made good!” Whether he’s patting himself on the back, or quietly mocking himself I can’t tell. But I say Absurdistan is exactly that, funny and full of pathos…just how I liked it.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Absurdistan