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Issue 67 - Absurdistan or bust

Whisky Magazine Issue 67
November 2007


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Absurdistan or bust

Jefferson Chase leafs through a modern classic

American Gary Shteyngart is an author I'm sure a recently departed friend and colleague of ours would have liked – a son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe with a taste for good food and drink, a love of words and a keen eye for life's ridiculousness.

Shteyngart's most recent novel Arburdistan is a satiric romp, in the style of Vanity Fair, through post-Soviet pandemonium. As it opens, Misha Vainberg – the grotesquely overweight, overpampered son of the 2168th richest man in Russia – is trying to engineer a return to the United States, where he attended university and his foul-mouthed Hispanic girlfriend awaits.

The American authorities won't let him back in because his since-deceased father killed an Oklahoma businessman. So Misha is left stranded in St. Petersburg feeling like a character from Dostoyevsky.

I am something of a holy fool. I am an innocent surrounded by schemers. I am a puppy deposited in a den of wolves…Like Prince Myshkin, I am not perfect, In the next 318 pages you may occasionally see me boxing the ears of my manservant or drinking one Laphroaig too many.

But you will also see me attempt to save an entire race from genocide; you will see me become a benefactor to St. Petersburg's miserable children; and you will watch me make love to fallen women with the childlike passion of the pure.

In fact, that's not even the half of it.

In quest of a Western passport, and with the US consulate turning a deaf ear to his pleas for clemency, Misha le...

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