Summary and book reviews of The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

The Russian Debutante's Handbook

A Novel

By Gary Shteyngart

The Russian Debutante's Handbook
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2002,
    464 pages.
    Paperback: May 2003,
    480 pages.

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Book Summary

The Russian Debutante's Handbook is infused with energy and wit and a brilliant use of language. Hilarious, extravagant, yet uncannily true to life, it follows the adventures of Vladimir, a young Russian-American immigrant, whose capitalist dreams and desires for a girlfriend lead him off the straight and narrow and into uncharted territory.

Taking us from the dreary confines of New York City's Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society to the hip frontier wilderness of Prava--the Eastern European Paris of the nineties--whose grand and glorious beauty is marred only by the shadow of the looming statue of Stalin's foot, this is both a madcap adventure and a serious look at what it means to be an outsider in America, and what it means to be an American.

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 ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Although the satire on the expatriate American community is a little too easy, Shteyngart's Vladimir remains an impressive piece of work, an amoral buffoon who energizes this remarkably mature work.

Kirkus Reviews

Ambitious, funny, intelligent, in love with irony and literary allusions, as if by a lighter Nabokov.

O Magazine

... [a] tender and hilarious émigré's romance.

Time Out New York

This picaresque debut...transcends its personal genesis to become an all-around great American story....If Henry Miller were Russian, this is a book he might have written.

Elle

The rampaging narrative is festooned on every page with glittering one-liners, improbably apt similes and other miniature pleasures.

The Washington Post

Gary Shteyngart ... has produced a sardonic, moving and ingeniously crafted update of earlier sagas of upward-struggling American newcomers.

Harper's Bazaar

A brilliant, funny debut describing the vicissitudes of immigration today, as experienced by the hero, a young Russian-American.

Vanity Fair

... a terrifically charming tale of a young Russian immigrant's capitalist and carnal aspirations.

Reader Reviews
pavel

there are two questions one should ask oneself before reading this book:
do you want to confirm and revel in the eccentricities of soviet jewish emigre?
do you want to entertain the idea that this writer's poshlost emancipation project has been ...   Read More

again Claudia (Italy)

Simply Marvellous! Shteyngart describes russian emigrates in Prague like I imagine them, and give also a critical idea of how young americans live today.
As an Italian girl I see Russian emigrates and Americans like Shteyngart describes...

Misha

Great Novel! Any honest soviet-Jew who grew up in the U.S. will be able to relate to the protagonist. A must read for anyone interested to know what Russians really think of the States, and how the soviet Russian mind tries to survive in the open ...   Read More

Mike

This book was a scream! The protagonist, young Vladimir Girshkin, is a Russian immigrant ne'er-do-well with an uncanny ability to get himself into trouble... yet with an even more uncanny ability to stay just barely afloat in the most dire ...   Read More

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