11 November 2009

Book Review: Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

This novel was absurd. And I didn't like it.

This novel is about a big fat Russian Jew, whose lifelong goal in his life is to immigrate to the United States. He used to live in the United States, since he lived in New York City as a student. He is the son of a very rich businessman, so he has plenty of money to burn. However, his father killed a businessman in Oklahoma, so because of that, he has problems in getting another visa from the United States.

So, what does he do? While in St. Petersburg, he whines and whines and complains about how the US Consulate always denies his visa application. He has various weird friends, and he drinks with them. He has an American girlfriend, who adores him primarily because of his money, not because of his body, since hey, he is fat, and his khui got mutilated due to a botched circumcision operation.

Suddenly, one of his friends gave him a bizarre idea. One of his friends suggested to him that he should become a Belgian citizen, and by virtue of his Belgian citizenship, he can enter the United States freely. However, in order to get Belgian citizenship, one should go to a certain obscure country: Absurdistan. This is a country located somewhere in the Caucasus, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Why there? Because in the Belgian Embassy in Absurdistan, there is a corrupt Belgian diplomat that would sell Belgian citizenship after paying a rather large sum. Now since this guy has the money, then sure, why not?

They go to Absurdistan, and sure enough, he gets his Belgian citizenship, but the problem now is exiting the country. Soon after getting his Belgian citizenship, civil war erupts. Chaos reigns. He cannot get out, and sooner than later, he gets involved in the local politics. The second half of the book is actually devoted to the ups and downs of the adventures that he gets himself into while in Absurdistan.

Now, is this novel funny? Yes. Is this novel absurd? Yes. Is this novel literature? Most probably not. The thing is, every chapter has its own set of funny stuff that makes me laugh while reading it. However, I am not sure how this can be categorized as literature. I know that this is a satirical novel, but unlike other satirical novels, I don't see the main idea behind it. I don't see a bigger picture. Really, this novel felt like the novel equivalent of a bad movie, perhaps one of the worst movies of all time, such as Freddy Got Fingered. Really, I had hopes in the beginning that the bad novel that this is would turn out better later (that's why I still finished this novel even though I thought that this was a bad one in the beginning), but it didn't. This book gets one star out of a possible five. I returned it to the library, and I am so looking forward to get a new book.

See my other book reviews here.

(Temple Guardian, from my Sackler and Freer Collection Series)


  1. The way you tell the story makes me want to read it, especially given that I know how weird can citizenship/ visa rules be.

    Would it be literature, I don't know, but at least it looks funny.

  2. Zhu,

    I have to say, it was indeed funny. However, funny as it may have been, I had to be in a certain mood to actually like it, and that was the problem.