Book #15: Absurdistan

The fictional country of Absurdistan is the satiric, decadent cousin to Casablanca, a neutral middle ground which Mischa Vainberg, the protagonist in Gary Shteyngart’s second book is using to sneak back to his beloved America, if he can ever get there. The novel Absurdistan is a rich satire in the vein of Confederacy of Dunces, Candide, and Jonathan Swift.

In the creation of Mischa Vainberg, Shteyngart has crafted an iconic, sympathetic figure that lives in spirit next to Ignatius Reilly, Don Quixote, and Prince Myshkin (referenced in the novel). Mischa's yearning to escape the dredge of his admittedly comfortable life in Russia to be once again reunited with his ghetto girlfriend in Brooklyn echoes the pre-9/11 yearning many had for America and, in his response to the atrocities perpetrated by the denizens of Absurdistan in a horribly misguided attempt to lure America (wickedly represented by Halliburton) into the country to rebuild its rapidly disintegrating infrastructure Shteyngart manages to encapsulate exactly what many think America is currently trying to do in Iraq in such a way that it stabs you in the heart without needing to bludgeon you over the head as well.

Absurdistan is surgical in its humor, its satire, and its pathos. One of the best books to come out last year and definitely one of the best books read this year.