A visionary novel from the author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure.
The Russian Debutante's Handbook introduces Vladimir Girshkin, one of the most original and unlikely heroes of recent times. The twenty-five-year-old unhappy lover to a fat dungeon mistress, affectionately nicknamed "Little Failure" by his high-achieving mother, Vladimir toils his days away as a lowly clerk at the bureaucratic Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society. When a wealthy but psychotic old Russian war hero appears, Vladimir embarks on an adventure of unrelenting lunacy that takes us from New York's Lower East Side to the hip frontier wilderness of Prava--the Eastern European Paris of the nineties. With the help of a murderous but fun-loving Russian mafioso, Vladimir infiltrates the Prava expat community and launches a scheme as ridiculous as it is brilliant.
Bursting with wit, humor, and rare insight, The Russian Debutante's Handbook is both a highly imaginative romp and a serious exploration of what it means to be an immigrant in America.
Orwell once remarked that the narrator of Tropic of Cancer was "so far from endeavoring to influence the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him." Shteyngart, whose sensibility is allied with Miller's, takes a passive character, Vladimir Girshkin, and makes him briefly proactive with disastrous results in his smart debut novel. Vladimir is the son of immigrants who came to the U.S. via a Carter administration swap (American wheat for Russian Jews); his father, a doctor prone to dreams of suicide and complicated medical schemes, and his mother, an entrepreneur who makes fun of her son's gait, give him the inestimable gift of alienation. In true slacker fashion, Vladimir, at 25, is wasting his expensive education clerking at the Emma Lazarus Immigration Absorption Society. A client, Rybakov, bribes Vladimir to get him American citizenship, confiding that his son, "the Groundhog," is a leading businessman (in prostitutes and drugs) in Prava "the Paris of the nineties" in the fictional Republika Stolovaya. Vladimir fakes a citizenship ceremony for Rybakov in order to curry favor with the Groundhog. Then, because he has unwisely repelled the sexual advances of crime boss Jordi while trying to make some illicit bucks to keep his girlfriend, Francesca, in squid and sake dinners in Manhattan, Vladimir leaves abruptly for Prava. Once there, and backed by the Groundhog, Vladimir embarks on a scheme to fleece the American students who have flocked to Prava's legendary scene. Although the satire on the expatriate American community is a little too easy, Shteyngart's Vladimir remains an impressive piece of work, an amoral buffoon who energizes this remarkably mature work.