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Russian Debutante's Handbook
 
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Russian Debutante's Handbook [Format Kindle]

Gary Shteyngart

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Vladimir Girshkin, a likeable Russian immigrant, searches for love, a decent job, and a credible self-identity in Gary Shteyngart's debut novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook. With a doctor-father of questionable ethics and a manic, banker mother, Vladimir avoids his suburban parents and their desire that he pursue the almighty dollar as proof of success. Vladimir gets by as an immigration clerk, eking out a living in a cruddy New York City apartment while accumulating an array of quirky acquaintances, from a wealthy but disheveled old man (who claims his electric fan speaks to him) desperate for citizenship to Challa, a portly S/M queen. As a love interest, Challa is replaced by Francesca, a graduate student whose friends welcome Vladimir for the status he brings their bohemian clique, and whose parents encourage them to shack up (she lives at home) as visible proof she can maintain a steady relationship.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook is a quirky amalgam of dead-on American absurdities, albeit with somewhat stereotypical characters. While Vladimir flounders with how to improve his state, he becomes an expatriate in a trendy European city, becomes somewhat of a mobster himself, and generally has a good time. While many of the central characters remain elusively thin, Vladimir is a delight, and Shteyngart's wit is merciless: Russian women wear "wedding cakes of blond hair" and graduate students lounge in a bar "as if waiting for funding to appear." Reminiscent of Gogol and other Russian satirists, The Russian Debutante's Handbook is a genuine, sublime social commentary. --Michael Ferch

Extrait

PART I
NEW YORK,
1993

1. THE STORY OF VLADIMIR GIRSHKIN

THE STORY OF VLADIMIR GIRSHKIN-PART P. T. BARNUM, part V. I. Lenin, the man who would conquer half of Europe (albeit the wrong half)-begins the way so many other things begin. On a Monday morning. In an office. With the first cup of instant coffee gurgling to life in the common lounge.

His story begins in New York, on the corner of Broadway and Battery Place, the most disheveled, godforsaken, not-for-profit corner of New York's financial district. On the tenth floor, the Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society greeted its clients with the familiar yellow water-stained walls and dying hydrangeas of a sad Third World government office. In the reception room, under the gentle but insistent prodding of trained Assimilation Facilitators, Turks and Kurds called a truce, Tutsis queued patiently behind Hutus, Serbs chatted up Croats by the demilitarized water fountain.

Meanwhile, in the cluttered back office, junior clerk Vladimir Girshkin-the immigrant's immigrant, the expatriate's expatriate, enduring victim of every practical joke the late twentieth century had to offer and an unlikely hero for our times-was going at it with the morning's first double-cured-spicy-soppressata-and-avocado sandwich. How Vladimir loved the unforgiving hardness of the soppressata and the fatty undertow of the tender avocado! The proliferation of this kind of Janus-faced sandwich, as far as he was concerned, was the best thing about Manhattan in the summer of 1993.

VLADIMIR WAS TWENTY-FIVE TODAY. He had lived in Russia for twelve years, and then there were the thirteen years spent here. That was his life-it added up. And now it was falling apart.

This would be the worst birthday of his life. Vladimir's best friend Baobab was down in Florida covering his rent, doing unspeakable things with unmentionable people. Mother, roused by the meager achievements of Vladimir's first quarter-century, was officially on the warpath. And, in possibly the worst development yet, 1993 was the Year of the Girlfriend. A downcast, heavyset American girlfriend whose bright orange hair was strewn across his Alphabet City hovel as if a cadre of Angora rabbits had visited. A girlfriend whose sickly-sweet incense and musky perfume coated Vladimir's unwashed skin, perhaps to remind him of what he could expect on this, the night of his birthday: Sex. Every week, once a week, they had to have sex, as both he and this large pale woman, this Challah, perceived that without weekly sex their relationship would fold up according to some unspecified law of relationships.

Yes, sex night with Challah. Challah with the bulging cheeks and determined radish of a nose, looking ever matronly and suburban, despite all the torn black shirts, gothic bracelets, and crucifixes that downtown Manhattan's goofiest shops managed to sell to her. Sex night-an offer Vladimir dared not refuse, given the prospect of waking up in a bed entirely empty; well, empty save for lonely Vladimir. How did that work again? You open your eyes, turn, and stare into the face of...the alarm clock. A busy and unforgiving face that, unlike a lover's, will say only "tick tock."

Suddenly, Vladimir heard the frenzied croaking of an elderly Russian out in the reception room: "Opa! Opa! Tovarisch Girshkin! Ai! Ai! Ai!"

The problem clients. They would come first thing Monday morning, having spent the weekend rehearsing their problems with their loathsome friends, practicing angry postures in front of the bathroom mirrors of their Brighton Beach studios.

It was time to act. Vladimir braced himself against the desk and stood up. All alone in the back office, with no point of reference other than the kindergarten-sized chairs and desks that comprised the furniture, he suddenly felt himself remarkably tall. A twenty-five-year-old man in an oxford shirt gone yellow under the armpits, frayed slacks with the cuffs coming comically undone, and wing tips that bore the black traces of a house fire, he dwarfed his surroundings like the lone skyscraper they built in Queens, right across the East River. But it wasn't true: Vladimir was short.

In the reception room, Vladimir found the bantam security guard from Lima pinioned against the wall. A chunky old Russian gent sporting the traditional flea market attire and six-dollar crew cut had trapped the poor fellow with his crutches and was now slowly leaning in on his prey, trying to bite him with his silver teeth. Alas, at the first hint of internecine violence, the native-born Assimilation Facilitators had ignobly fled the scene, leaving behind their Harlem, U.S.A., coffee mugs and Brooklyn Museum tote bags. Only junior clerk Vladimir Girshkin remained to assimilate the masses. "Nyet! Nyet! Nyet!" he shouted to the Russian. "We never do that to the guard."

The madman turned to face him. "Girshkin!" he sputtered. "It's you!" He pushed himself away from the guard in one remarkable motion and started limping toward Vladimir. He was a man of small stature, made smaller by a weighty green rucksack bearing down on him. One side of his azure guayabera shirt was filled bosom to navel with Soviet war medals, and their weight pulled down one collar, exposing a veined lump of neck.

"What do you want from me?" Vladimir said.

"What do I want from you?" the Russian shouted. "My God, what haughtiness!" A shaking crutch was quickly lifted into place between them. The lunatic executed a practice jab: On guard!

"I spoke to you on the phone last month," the crutch-bearer complained. "You sounded very cultured on the phone, remember?"

Cultured, yes. That would be him. Vladimir examined the man who was killing his morning. He had a broad Slavic (as opposed to Jewish) face, with a web of creases so deep they could have been carved with a pocketknife. Bushy Brezhnevian eyebrows were overtaking his forehead. A small island of hair, still blond, was moored at the geographical center of his pate. "We spoke, heh?" Vladimir said, in the devil-may-care tone of Soviet officialdom. He was a big fan of the syllable "heh."

"Oh, yes!" the old man enthused.

"And what did I say to you, heh?"

"You said to come over. Miss Harosset said to come over. The fan said to come over. So I took the number five train to Bowling Green like you said." He looked pleased with himself.

Vladimir took a tentative step back toward his office. The guard was settling back on his perch, rebuttoning his shirt, and mumbling something in his language. Still, something was amiss. Let's tally up: angry Slav; cowering security guard; low-paying, absurdist job; misspent youth; sex night with Challah. Oh, yes. "What's this fan?" Vladimir asked.

"It's the one in my bedroom," the fellow said, smirking at a question so obvious. "I have two fans."

"The fan said to come over," Vladimir said. And he has two fans. Right then, on the spot, Vladimir recognized that this wasn't a problem client. This was a fun client. A loop-de-loop client. The kind of client that turned on your morning switch and kept you brisk and agitated all day. "Listen," Vladimir said to this Fan Man, "Why don't we step into my office and you tell me everything."

"Bravo, young one!" The Fan Man gave a victory salute to his erstwhile victim the security guard. He limped into the back office, where he lowered himself onto one of the cold plastic chairs. Painfully, he removed the green beast of a rucksack.

"So, what's your name? We'll start with that."

"Rybakov," said the Fan Man. "Aleksander. Or just Aleks."

"Please...Tell me about yourself. If you're comfortable-"

"I'm psychotic," Rybakov said. His enormous eyebrows twitched in confirmation, and he smiled with false modesty, like a kid who brings in his father the astronaut on career day.

"Psychotic!" Vladimir said. He tried to look encouraging. It was not uncommon for the mad Russians to give him their diagnosis right off the bat; some treated it almost like a profession or a calling in life. "And you've been diagnosed?"

"By many people. I'm under observation as we speak," said Mr. Rybakov, peering under Vladimir's desk. "Look, I even wrote a letter to the president in the New York Times."

He produced a crumpled piece of paper reeking of alcohol, tea, and his own wet palm. "Dear Mr. President," read Vladimir. "I am a retired Russian sailor, a proud combatant against the Nazi terror in the Second World War and a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. I have lived in your wonderful country for more than five years and have received much moral and financial support from the warm and highly sexed American people (in particular, my thoughts alight on the women skating around Central Park with just a bit of cloth wrapped around their breasts). Back in Russia, senior citizens with mental disabilities are kept in dilapidated hospitals and humiliated on a daily basis by young hooligans who have scarcely heard of the Great Patriotic War and have no sympathy for their elders who fought tooth and nail to keep out the murderous Krauts. In America, I am able to lead a full, satisfactory life. I select and purchase groceries at the Sloan's supermarket on Eighty-ninth Street and Lexington. I watch television, specifically the show about the comical black midget on channel five. And I help defend America by investing part of my social security income into companies such as Martin Marietta and United Technologies. Soon I will become a citizen of this great nation and will be able to choose my leaders (not like in Russia). So I wish you, Mr. President, and your desirable American wife and developing young daughter, a very healthy, happy New Year. Respectfully, Aleksander ...


Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 598 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 476 pages
  • Editeur : Riverhead; Édition : Reissue (29 avril 2003)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B000OCXH2W
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 étoiles sur 5  113 commentaires
45 internautes sur 47 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Some clever wordplay, but in need of an editor 13 mars 2005
Par lunacharskii - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Gary Steyngart is an obviously talented writer, as this debut novel proves. Let me be more precise: Shteyngart is gifted with words and imagery and phrasing, but less so when it comes to plot and pacing and characterization. Vladimir Girshkin, our erstwhile hero, is a walking contradiction -- a thoroughly unpleasant and unsympathetic character who will undoubtedly frustrate most readers by consistently acting in inconsistent and unpredictable fashion. The rest of the characters we encounter merely fumble through the proceedings as cardboard cutout-stereotypes; others (luckier ones?) simply disappear without a trace (sadly, it is the more interesting characters who vanish, leaving us with the dross).

Again, Shteyngart has a real flair for language, and there are some moments that will inspire true laughter in most readers. But at 470+ pages, this book is simply too long for its own good; Shteyngart can't sustain the hilarity, the plot wanders, the focus blurs, and at least 150 pages should have been cut. With a sloppily constructed plot riddled with holes, a host of inaccuracies that a watchful editor would have doubtless corrected (bones in chicken Kiev??), and a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion, this is an interesting, but incredibly overrated, novel. Quite simply, this is not the great masterpiece that the cover blurbs would have you believe.
29 internautes sur 32 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 shteyngart is a natural comedian 4 août 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Reliure inconnue
I have had a similar upbringing as the author. I came to New York when I was young from Russia, and had a similar kind of education and I have to say the author gets the whole thing down right. Not only is he a great writer he has the kind of comic timing that only a good comedian has. The jokes come fast and furious and you just speed through the novel on the humor alone. Not everyone can get this comedy I'm sure but for those who have an open mind this is a trip worth taking (see for example the funny false naturalization ceremony for immigrants, the bonfire of Soviet clothes, etc.) This is the beginning of a great talent worth watching. The last few pages are an intersting way to finish the book because they show us just how sad the hero's story is beneath the laughter.
29 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Many in-jokes, picaresque Mafia Portnoy's Complaint... 1 janvier 2005
Par Gwen A Orel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I read this for the section dealing with expatriates in Prague-- here called "Prava." If you spent any time there in the nineties, you'll see a lot of in-jokes and satire that may cause you to chuckle-- the Prague Post here named Prava-dence, Cafe Radost called Joy, and so on.

But in truth that section is not what the book is "about" (nor is there a lot of detail about it)-- it's a comic/dark fantasy coming-of-age that takes on America, Russia, Central Europe-- none of it terribly deeply. It's sort of a Russian Philip Roth-- Girshkin's ruminations on women and sex take up a lot of the book and they are remarkably unerotic; sex seems to be all animal smells and bodily fulids.

The story of an American/Russian boy (Like the author, the protagonist moved to America as a child) who for complicated reasons ends up in Central Europe as an entrepreneurial mafioso is episodic, wordy, intermittently funny but ultimately oddly uninvolving.

This got ecstatic reviews and awards when it came out, and there's no doubt that Shteyngart writes well, but the comparisons to Waugh are misplaced. Waugh was concise-- Shteyngart goes on, and on, and on. This book would be a lot more fun if it were a solid 150 pages shorter.

As it is, had I not been interested in the Prague satire, I think i'd have stopped reading-- this kind of blood-and-semen boy-into-man comedy is not something I usually enjoy.

Like Philip Roth, whose Portnoy's Complaint is so well written but kind of gross, I will keep an eye on Shteyngart and read him again. If you like that kind of story, you'll like this too.
34 internautes sur 42 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Utterly original and infused with comic lunacy 24 décembre 2002
Par Matthew Krichman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Reliure inconnue
Gary Shteyngart has written a great first novel, filled with idiosyncratic characters and their over-the-top experiences.  With the Russian Debutante's Handbook, he has established himself as a master of social critique and comic lunacy.
One of the beauties of this novel is how it skillfully juxtaposes two worlds.  The first half of the novel explores the peculiarities of New York City through the eyes of Vladimir Gershkin, an immigrant Russian Jew working as an assimilation facilitator at an immigrant absorption clinic.  The second half of the novel follows our hero to the loosely-fictitious eastern European city of Prava, bubbling with the onset of capitalism and infused with comic relief by the budding expat community.  Shteyngart, himself a Russian immigrant, ideally trained by his own experience and uniquely equipped with a gift for observation and expression, exposes the hilarious quirks of each world and pokes sharply yet playfully at their shortcomings.
Much has been said about Shteyngart's gift for language.  It is not an exaggeration to say that one could literally open this book to any page and find an utterly original turn of phrase, or a combination of words that beg you to stop and ponder.  This is a truly fresh voice in the literary world.
11 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Shteyngart knows the location of America's cultural pulse 27 janvier 2003
Par Christina - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Reliure inconnue
Vladimir Girshkin, aged 25, doesn't know who he really is, who he wants to be, or what he will become. He is, however, painfully aware that he's a Russian immigrant, a naturalized American citizen, and a Jew. These three qualities give Girshkin a painful inferiority complex, one which alternates between hilarious and disheartening.
Instead, Girshkin does know he needs more money than he could ever earn acclimating Russian citizens to America in order to support his new, nouveau riche lifestyle in New York City, flittering among TriBeCa's inner circles and cliques. So, he travels to Prava-the glittering and grimy capital of Eastern Europe in the early `90s-to cavort with the Russian mafiaso and pull off the pyramid scheme to end all pyramid schemes. There, he works under the shadow of communism, literally; an immense statue of Stalin's foot occupies much of Prava's main square, serving as a grim reminder of the Soviet way of life and, more specifically, 1969.
Once in Prava, Girshkin quickly establishes himself as the Hemmingway of the 30,000-plus strong expatriate community, where everyone is a Fitzgerald and parties like they'll never return home.
This novel is infused with Gary Shteyngart's perception of Americans and their culture and his reflections on what it is like to be without a country. Through Shteyngart's witty phrases and dialogue, he proves he knows his adopted country better than most native-born Americans; phrases like "And Vladimir, young and tiny but already a child of America, said, `Aren't there pills she can take?'" make the reader cringe with a chagrined acceptance.
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