Publication Date: July 27
I didn't find this book to be a "super sad true love story" ... nor a "super sad, true, love story". Mostly, I found the love missing and rather than sad, I found it kind of depressing.
So why the 5 stars?
Let me break it down:
Originality/creativity - 5
Humor - 2
Characters - 2.5? maybe 3
social commentary/satire - 5
eerie plausibility - 5
It's the near future. Perhaps it's now. It's impossible to tell. We are addicted to social networking, online shopping and our iPhones. Our worth as humans is measured by our credit scores and LDL cholesterol. There IS no privacy. Dying is optional. We're all members of the Bipartisan Party. Credit is King, and a highly valued profession. Media is an aspiration and a high compliment. The dollar is wallpaper, unless it's Yuan-pegged.
Shteyngart really did a fantastic job with his "vision" of our near future.
There's a lot of talk about how funny this book is. I didn't find it so at all. The truth is very often funny, but in this case, the truth was just too scary for me. That didn't detract (for me) in any way from the book, but I wouldn't go in expecting a laugh riot.
The "love" in this story was ostensibly between Eunice, a beautiful young girl, of Korean decent and Lenny, an "old man" (39 ... old in the context of the book), of Russian descent, not attractive, kind of a dweeb. The story is told from their alternating points of view.
Here's where I really struggled, because I'm not convinced it was possible to love the characters. Or perhaps even to like them. We've all seen it ... A group of people sitting at a table, having dinner or a coffee, and nobody is interacting. They're on their iPhones, Blackberries. Texting, googling, checking the stock market or their auction. Human interaction is becoming superfluous. Need a friend? Login to Facebook. Need some shoes? shoes.com. Imagine what we'll be like in ten to twenty years. Self-absorbed, self-sufficient, uninteresting, SHALLOW. Only the most innate biological imperative will drive us to other people.
I didn't "feel" the love in this potential "love" story, because I'm not convinced the characters were capable of love, either of themselves or others. Maybe they weren't fully developed, but I don't think that was it. I think they were as fully developed as they could be given the times they grew up in.
It's so well-done, and so plausible, it almost doesn't even feel like satire. Quite simply: Brilliant.
David Mitchell called this book "social prophecy" in his blurb. I hope he's wrong, but it sure does seem like we are headed down this path. Shteyngart had to have started writing this book at least two years ago. Yet, so much of what is in this book is happening right now. The Facebook privacy controversy is a prime example.
In addition to the social aspects of this book, there's also the political. I don't want to give any more detail than I already have, but this passage really struck me:
"....there were all these like little shacks for the homeless people in Central Park. It was really sad. These people are getting kicked out of their homes along the highway because the Chinese central banker is coming and Lenny says the Bipartisans don't want us to look poor in front of our Asian creditors."
This is an eye-opening novel. A cautionary tale! We are selling America to the highest bidder so we can wear our Juicy dresses and Prada sunglasses, while dining on truffled lobster Mac 'n Cheese in our kitchens with subway tile blacksplash.
Incidentally, this would make and OUTSTANDING (though not traditional) book club read. So many great topics for undoubtedly heated discussion.
Rated 5/5 stars