Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart (2006)

Wonderful fun. Imagine if Syriana was a comedy–as it probably should have been–and you’re headed in the right direction. Obese Russian son of a mobbed-up oligarch has hard currency to burn and all the pleasures of the former Soviet republics (sturgeon omelets, Mercedes limousines, platoons of teenaged prostitutes) at his disposal, but all he really wants to be in New York, city of his dreams, eating a slice and sitting on a stoop in Washington Heights. And that he can’t have, because the Americans won’t give the son of a gangster a visa. So lots of collisions of high and low and East and West as the kid tries to make a way for himself, one minute it’s body shots and gangsta rap, the next it’s black bread and wheezing old-school bureaucracy. The novel’s insights into the ways the west is leaching into the east and vice versa are smart, but a bit too fun; sometimes I wished for a little more vinegar, a little more wickedness. The feeling here is closer to Tom Robbins than Nabokov, I fear. I hasten to say that I adore Tom Robbins.