New York, Summer, Very near future, Economic collapse, tanks in the streets, riots in Central Park, defeat in Venezuela, books are quaint artefacts, what's left of the indebted United States is about to be parcelled out to the rising nations of Finance-London and China-Worldwide, and what's left of interpersonal relations can be summarized by a couple of flashing statistics on attractiveness and wealth. But Lenny Abramov is too in love to notice any of it. The son of working-class Russian immigrants, a bumbling minor ...
New York, Summer, Very near future, Economic collapse, tanks in the streets, riots in Central Park, defeat in Venezuela, books are quaint artefacts, what's left of the indebted United States is about to be parcelled out to the rising nations of Finance-London and China-Worldwide, and what's left of interpersonal relations can be summarized by a couple of flashing statistics on attractiveness and wealth. But Lenny Abramov is too in love to notice any of it. The son of working-class Russian immigrants, a bumbling minor functionary in a company that just may hold the secret to eternal life, and the reluctant star of a show called "101 People We Need To Feel Sorry For", he has fallen way too hard for the imperious Eunice Park, a blistering, beautiful Korean-American, a seductive shopper and brilliant money-spender who still knows how to speak in sentences, and a true child of her times. As the country around them explodes into a million glittering pieces, the two will discover whether love is still possible in a world where words have lost their meaning, and where every touch, embrace and kiss could be mistaken for a commodity.
This book makes my short list for works most likely to be called "a classic." In a more hopeful future a-coming than Shteyngart's, this book will be required reading for AP kids when they study "21st Century Literature" on their I-SCOOL Apps in 2050.
This book has a lot in common with "1984", "Brave New World", and "Envy" - and any other biggies of the literary dystopian future I may have forgotten. Like 1984 it's partly diary driven. Like "Brave New World" it has the most liberal sexual morality this side of whatever the unsupervised 14 year olds down the street are doing tonight. It resembles "Envy" in it's contrast of the deep but failed superfluous man from the old days against "a New Soviet Man"... if that NSM is a technologically sophisticated, media savy, hot Korean Girl.
Shteyngart creates a a fully realized future reality to the point that it confuses the reader with it's strangeness. At the same time this world is a little too recognizable. The trends of our current morality towards a future where it has vanished into promiscuity and texting has been achieved. America's economic Armageddon resulting from the National debt and outsourcing of all productive means to pay off that debt has drawn neigh. And if the machine singularity predicted by Kurzweil hasn't come to pass, the marketing singularity has. See SSTLS for further details.
Yet there are some things that stay constant in the future: the family is still a source of neurosis, love and who we are. True love, as the title suggests, is a need that still can arise even in the sickest soil of the future. And an argument for the gold standard has got to be in this thing somewhere.
I love this book and am sincere in thinking it a classic. The only thing holding me back from certainty in this conviction is the ending... which, frankly, was a little anti-climactic for me. The book was, maybe, one chapter too long. On the other hand, this "failing" might be another point in it's favor. Unlike 1984 it doesn't end with a punchline and the tendentious push to immediately notice what you have just read in the world around you... and then buy war bonds.* It's more like life, where despite calamity, life goes on, at least for some well positioned HNWI's. What's an HNWI? You'll have to read the book to find out... (ok, "High Net Worth Individuals" for those who can't wait). Do it now, while there are still books and while you don't need yuan to buy them.
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