Blog: Strand Books Presents Gary Shteyngart
Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 novel “Super Sad True Love Story” gives us a glimpse of a postmodern apocalyptic world that is a terrifying precursor of what might come should our overreliance on technology and dogged adherence to our staunch political affiliations continue. And it’s mixed in with a love story that is both fascinating and comical. Shteyngart’s free live book reading at Union Square’s Strand Books Monday night proved the author’s comedic wit and timing translates well, even long after he’s put down his pen.
Donning dark black frames and a loosely fitting plaid button down shirt, Shteyngart (The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan) confidently took the podium on Monday on the bookstore’s packed second floor. With his dog Felix seated atop a table topped with books to his left, the author reminisced about trips to the very same store in his youth, saving up $20 and using $1 or $2 on hot dogs, and the other $18 on discounted books by unknown authors. He opened by revealing his actual Russian birth certificate, “dispelling rumors [about him] on the intertube” and that his full name was in fact ‘Igor “Hussein” Shteyngart,” which had the crowd rolling.
Shteyngart’s accent is not necessarily thick, but it is there, fully showing itself during the reading of a full chapter from his book. His slow delivery was calibrated and calculated, pausing perfectly when assessing the tone of the room. He repeatedly took comedic jabs at his own story, while trying to engage any audience members who had not yet read through the novel. The excerpt was an outstanding selection for the live read- relatable (Lenny Abramov bringing his new girlfriend, Eunice Park home to meet his parents for the first time) and humorous (Shteyngart’s thick accents for his parents and flippant girlfriend translated well live), avoiding the revelation of the book’s major plotlines.
The book itself is an exceptional read. In many ways it’s a tragic boy chases girl love story, which takes place in New York City after America has completely fallen apart. We’re at war with Venezuela. Our debt to China is so great that the country is threatening to cut us off, using that leverage to get everything they want from us. Every citizen wears an “apparat” or a computer around their neck, which serves to judge you amongst your peers, based on a multitude of factors like credit score, hotness, and “fuckability.” While his creatively invented future sounds outlandish, somehow it doesn’t seem completely implausible as our aforementioned reliance on technologies continue to grow.
While the true highlight of the evening was hearing pieces of the story in the author’s own words, the Q&A portion was just as rewarding to audience members with unanswered questions. Ranging from the personal (influences on his writing; other Jewish authors; “how do you keep the anger going?”) to questions about the text itself, Shteyngart graciously answered every question posed, dryly but genuinely, intimating the trials in his upbringing as an immigrant in Manhattan. Comfortably, he stood behind the podium, his expertise in public speaking evident from his position at Columbia as a professor. Shetyngart hints that his fourth book will be more of a memoir, focusing on “trips to Disney World that didn’t work out, the first pizza I ever ate, and going to Hebrew School, pretending to be born in Berlin” (he was born in Leningrad). LocalBozo.com posed the question, “Do you fear that our overreliance on technology will ultimately doom us?”. Shteyngart looked forlorn, saying “Do I think it will doom us? Probably not. It makes life much sadder. I miss my analog,” before recovering with, “Join me on Facebook.”
- Jane Van Arsdale