Sunday, March 29, 2009

Absurdistan

Recently, I labored over Absurdistan for a few weeks before throwing in the towel. Note to self - stay away from the -istan genre because nothing but disappointment can come from it. This is speaking from experience borne out by Londonstani to Kite-Runner by way of Absurdistan. Belonging to one place and trying to escape or fit into another is a theme that the ABCD brethren have already flogged to death many times over. I had imagined that in the hands on a non-desi, a different outcome might result. Not so, as it turns out.

Shteyngart just reduces the reader to tears of ennui with his gratingly repetitious references to the the hero's sex organ and his chronic obesity - there is no credible third dimension to his character. The author appears to borrow some ingredients from John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces (a book I absolutely loved for its over the top absurdity and cleverness) and adds to it the standard -istan genre must-haves to create something that makes for painful reading. There might be a tiny dash of Philip Roth's iconic Portnoy but that only serves to perciptate the disaster this recipe turns out to be.

This is possibly a book with a grand-design gone horribly wrong in execution. You see the remnants of themes scattered like many stumps of a fire-gutted building.

I will admit that I am not the most patient reader but I did persevere with Shteyngart given all the hype around this book. Tried to see if he got his groove ten chapters out but sadly he just does not. The sex is crude, out of context and mostly unnecessary in as far as adding heft to the storyline. As for the cultural references - I am sure the natives would find them as contrived and deprecating as I do the botched ABCD attempts to pimp India and Indianness to the world.

I am amazed that this book once made it to NYT's top-ten list. In a sense the novel could not have a more fitting name - it does belong to the Absuristan bin where readers toss books that were an absurd waste of time to read.

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