A Curious Arc: On the “Partial” Transformation of Gary Shteyngart’s Vladmir – Part II

In the beginning of an extraordinary piece of fiction entitled “A Heroic Death,” the 19th century Parisian poet Charles Baudelaire noted that fools have a curious way of getting themselves in trouble.  For Baudelaire, the reason for this has to do with the fact that fools don’t often think about the consequences of their actions.  […]

A Curious Arc: On the “Partial” Transformation of Gary Shteyngart’s Vladmir – Part I

Sometimes schlemiels can go through transformations in the self-same novel, movie, short-story, or comic strip.  We see this, for instance, in several Woody Allen films such as Anything Else (2003), Hollywood Ending (2002), Whatever Works (2009) and Midnight in Paris (2011); we also see this in Judd Apatow’s films Knocked Up (2007) and Super Bad (2007).  However, […]

Girshkin and Rybakov: Gary Shteyngart’s Comic Duo

There’s nothing quite like a comic duo or what Neil Simon, at one time, called an “odd couple.”  To be sure, it always helps a comic routine when one comedian plays off another.  By witnessing one comedian play off another, the audience gets some kind of “contact buzz.”  One need only think of Laurel and […]

Gary Shteyngart’s Immigrant-Becoming-American Schlemiel: The Unlikely Hero of our Times

Vladmir Girshkin is the main character of Gary Shteygart’s novel The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.   It is the story of a particular kind of Immigrant-Becoming-American-Schlemiel and his becoming-American world.  The “arc of his dreams,” as the schlemiel-like narrator of the novel shows us, begins in Russia and ends in America.  These dreams come from a character […]

Final Notes on Jewishness in Gary Shtyengart’s Absurdistan – Take 1

The image of Judaism and Jewishness that comes across to the readers of Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan is disturbing in many ways. Over the last month, I have written several blog entries on Gary Shteyngart’s representation of circumcision (by way of Misha, the main character of Absurdistan).   As I point out in many of these blog […]

When is too much…too much? The Exhaustion of Failure in Shteyngart’s Little-Failure-Ad-Campaign

Ok.  Its good to know what someone is doing, but when is too much…too much?  And what happens when what he or she is saying is not particularly that insightful? When it comes to the schlemiel, there is a limit.   Every good writer knows that.  Overkill doesn’t do the schlemiel well.  This is what I […]

Circumscribed: Circumcision as Dismemberment in Shteyngart’s Absurdistan – Part II

In the Jewish world, circumcision has prompted many jokes that have found their way into the mainstream.  On the internet you’ll find a lot of these Jewish jokes.   Here’s one from Comedy Central’s Website; its entitled “Circumcision…At Your Age?” Two men are sharing a hospital room.  “What are you in for?” the first man asks.  […]

Circumscribed: Circumcision as Dismemberment in Shteyngart’s Absurdistan – Part I

In Hebrew the word for circumcision is “brit.”  Brit is the same word used for “the covenant” between God and Man.   In fact, the first covenant between God and Man mentioned in the Torah is between Abraham and God.  When Abraham, at his late age in life, circumcises himself, God makes a covenant with him […]

“Russians Are Just a Bunch of Niggaz” – Introducing Multiculturalism to Shteyngart’s Absurdistan

Every Gary Shteyngart novel addresses multiculturalism.   And they do so by way of articulating the complex relationships of the main characters – who are all Jewish-Russian-Americans – to Eastern Europeans, Latino-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and Non-Jewish-Americans.  To be sure, Shteyngart portrays his main characters as former exchange-students who majored in “multiculturalism” in a mid-western college […]

Shut yo mouf! Two Schlemiel-Rappers And A Microphone in Shteyngart’s Absurdistan

Although I am not a wealthy 30 year-old overweight-Russia-Jew who is stuck in Russia and looks to get back to NYC,  I am very drawn to the antics, body, and blindspots of Gary Shteyngart’s Misha character in his novel Absurdistan. His nomadic-translations of American culture into his own way of life are endearing: they bring me […]