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The Russian Debutante's Handbook

by Gary Shteyngart

Riverhead Books
April 2003
ISBN: 1573229881


Tales of The American Dream - of pulling oneself up out of poverty and into the ranks of the wealthy and powerful, never cease to capture the imagination of audiences around the world. Within every human heart lies the hope of improving one's lot in life, and succeeding in the eyes of family, peers, and society.

"The Russian Debutante's Handbook" offers an wry and amusing twist on the traditional rags-to-riches storyline. Our humble Russian immigrant, Vladimir Girshkin, begins the tale nestled in early 1990's New York City. While his job as clerk for Immigration provides only a meager existence for himself and his rotund love interest, a deep and resonating Soviet belief in dissatisfaction as a way of life sustains him. It is not until his introduction to an elderly and mentally unstable immigrant that seeds of true discontent are sown.

The Fan Man has a problem: He has been denied U.S. citizenship for undisclosed reasons. In handing Vladimir a sizable cash incentive, it is his hope to obtain insider assistance with becoming a true member of American Society. It is this generous proposition, combined with the constant nagging of his successful mother, that provides the fuel for Vladimir's climb up the societal ladder. He soon discards his modest dwelling and quiet companion, in favor of a wealthy New York intellectual and her liberal-minded family.

Motivated by the easy life of the intellectual sphere, Girshkin begins to pursue as many shortcuts toward financial success as possible. The combination of some dubious friends (including the Fan Man and his mafioso son), his desire for success, and his own gift for justification conspire to push Vladimir forward in financial success in his homeland, and toward greater and greater danger.

Shteyngart's lucid prose yields a narrative that is as intriguing as it is humorous. His flair for braiding together Russian tradition, youthful discontent, and incredible circumstance into one frayed and knotted cord leaves the reader perpetually unsure whether to pity, laugh, or gawk at the life of Vladimir Girshkin.

Andrew Lasda - Staff Features Writer


Mike Doughty



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