Renowned satirist to visit U.S. bases
Stars and Stripes August 9, 2009
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Gary Shteyngart has been compared to Gogol and Nabokov, and he towers above other young writers, said one reviewer, as "a giant on horseback."
He teaches at Columbia and Princeton universities, and once gave an interview whose entire subject was meat.
He spoke eloquently and at length to Modern Drunkard Magazine about vodka, orgies in Rome, the antiseptic nature of modern life and an attempt by ministers from the Republic of Georgia to persuade him to help them defraud U.S. charities of $600 million.
And now the famous writer is coming to U.S. Army Europe. For eight days, he’ll travel to base libraries throughout Germany to teach workshops, give readings and discuss whatever comes up.
Even the librarians who are bringing him over — with the help of a booking agency in Massachusetts — aren’t sure why such a literary star and wicked satirist is coming to such an obscure corner of the literary world.
"He may be coming just to make fun of us," said librarian Mike McNulty. "I hope so." Shteyngart could not be reached for comment.
Shteyngart, 37, who immigrated to New York from Leningrad with his family when he was 7, has won big awards for his two best-selling books, "The Russian Debutante’s Handbook," published in 2003, and "Absurdistan," published in 2006.
Misha, the hero of "Absurdistan," is the obese, lascivious, vodka and Ativan-swilling son of a murdered Russian oligarch, "with lips so delicate you would want to wipe them with the naked back of your hand."
Misha is stranded in St. Petersburg after his father murders an Oklahoma businessman and is then himself murdered. Mischa goes on a quest to get a fake Belgian passport so he can return to the U.S. and his girlfriend in the Bronx. He goes to a tiny, oil-rich, post-Soviet backwater where a civil war is being fomented by the government and U.S. corporations for fun and profit. Misha becomes minister of multicultural affairs.
The novel, a cultural and political satire, hilariously mocks Russians, Americans, various religions, Texans, college students, academia, communism, capitalism, oil kleptocracies, Halliburton and Shteyngart himself.
"He makes fun of everything," McNulty said. "He really doesn’t care."
The book is on the recommended reading list of Adm. James Stavridis, the new commander of NATO and U.S. European Command.
The reading list, the first ever for the command, comprises 80 books. The idea is "to bring together a well-rounded collection of works that cover the gamut of history, policy, international relations, political science, biography, strategy, and — my particular love — fiction," Stavridis wrote on his blog on the command homepage. "It’s not an assignment — it’s a series of well-considered suggestions."
Shteyngart will start his tour Monday in Mannheim. His appearances at the libraries will start at 5:30 p.m., with reading and discussion sessions beginning at 7 p.m.
Other stops include Baumholder on Tuesday, Kaiserslautern on Wednesday and Heidelberg on Thursday. On Sunday, he’ll be in Garmisch, and Aug. 17 through 19 he’ll be in Stuttgart, Hohenfels and Schweinfurt, respectively.