Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart tells the tale of Misha Vainburg, the America-obsessed son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, whose quest for love ends up transporting him to a fictional country called Absurdistan.
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At the beginning of the novel, Misha, a secular Russian Jew, is kept from returning to his beloved New York because his father, Boris Vainburg, got banned from the United States because of his renowned status as a mobster. Misha thus remains in St. Petersberg, living the life of a bored dilatant. He spends the majority of his time palling around with his friends and writing extensive emails to Rouenna Sales, his girlfriend in New York that he met on a study trip to America, and who, it is implied, didn't mind the mangled state of his poorly circumcised penis when they first made love.
When Boris Vainburg is murdered by the head of another mafia, however, things become more complicated for Misha. Apart from sleeping with his father's wife—a woman younger than even him—Misha begins a philanthropic organization called Misha's Children in order to right his hereditary wrongs. In the meantime, US immigration services still do not allow Misha into the country, even with his father dead. He thus decides to attempt and get a hold of a fake European passport, which he must attain in a country called Absurdistan, located near the Caspian Sea.
In Absurdistan, Misha discovers that Rouenna has become involved with a moderately famous writer named Jerry Shteynfarb (an obvious play on the author, Gary Shteyngart's name), who, like Misha, is a Russian Jew, and acted as his rival in college. Misha still wants to return to America, however, even if his relationship with Rouenna has come to an end. When he finally obtains a fake passport from Belgium and prepares to depart Absurdistan, however, a ministerial official is murdered and war breaks out. Misha is confined to his hotel room and one of the friends he came with, Alyosha-Bob, manages to escape without him.
In the final pages, Misha becomes friends with a woman named Nana Nanabragov, whose father holds a lot of influence in Absurdistan. Nana's father, Mr. Nanabragov, offers Misha a parliamentary position, along with a hand in creating a museum to commemorate what is referred to as the Caspian Holocaust. The longer he lingers in Nana's family's embrace, however, the more he realizes that everything he is being fed is a lie. The murder of a minister and the subsequent coup are discovered to have been mechanisms in which to attract American attention, so that they can invade Absurdistan and set up a new democracy.
After realizing he's been tricked, Misha and Nana attempt to flee Absurdistan by train. Nana's father, however, attempts to have Misha killed for the infraction. Misha's friend thus flees the train with Nana to a small mountain village, and Misha himself continues north towards Russia on his own. The book ends on September 11, 2001, and it is implied that Misha, due to the impending security restraints, will never be able to return to New York.
Best part of story, including ending:
I love the author's tone, which is equally absurd and tragic.
Best scene in story:
There's a great scene when the main character is high, and has hilarious hallucinations, before hallucinations of him nursing his dying mother end up taking over. Very telling.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Misha is unflinching in his desire to escape a country he'll never be able to escape. It's sad, but heroic.