Excerpt from The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Russian Debutante's Handbook

A Novel

by Gary Shteyngart

The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart X
The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2003, 480 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"That's true enough," Vladimir agreed. "But I think what you need, Mr. Rybakov, is an immigration lawyer...For unfortunately, I am not..."

"Oh, I know who you are, little goose," Mr. Rybakov said.

"Pardon?" Vladimir said. The last time he had been called "little goose" was twenty years ago, when he was, indeed, a diminutive, unsteady creature, his head covered with a smattering of golden down.

"The Fan sang an epic song for me the other night," said Rybakov. "It was called 'The Tale of Vladimir Girshkin and Yelena Petrovna, His Mama.'"

"Mother," Vladimir whispered. He didn't know what else to say. That word, when spoken in the company of Russian men, was sacred in itself. "You know my mother?"

"We haven't had the pleasure of being formally introduced," Rybakov said. "But I read about her in the business section of the New Russian Word. What a Jewess! The pride of your people. A capitalist she-wolf. Scourge of the hedge funds. Ruthless czarina. Oh, my dear, dear Yelena Petrovna. And here I am chatting with her son! Surely he knows the right people, fellow Hebrews perhaps, among the dastardly agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service."

Vladimir scrunched up his hairy upper lip so as to smell its animal fragrance - a soothing pastime. "But you're mistaken," he said. "There is nothing I can do for you. I lack Mother's cunning, I have no friends in the INS...I have no friends anywhere. The apple has fallen far from the apple tree, as they say. Mother may be a she-wolf, but look at me..." Vladimir gestured expansively at the deprivation around him.

Just then the double doors opened, and, twenty minutes late for work, the Chinese and Haitian women - Vladimir's fellow junior clerks in the back office - walked in from the streets, laden with buttered rolls and coffee. They retreated behind the desks labeled china and haiti, tucking in their long, gauzy summer skirts. When Vladimir's gaze returned to his client, ten hundred-dollar bills, ten portraits of purse-lipped Benjamin Franklin, were unfurled on the table to form a paper fan.

"Ai!" Vladimir cried. Instinctively, he grabbed the hard currency and deposited it inside his shirt pocket. He glanced at his international colleagues. Oblivious of the crime just committed, they were stuffing themselves with morning rolls, bantering about recipes for Haitian crackers and how to know if a man was decent. "Mr. Rybakov!" Vladimir whispered. "What are you doing? You cannot give me money. This is not Russia!"

"Everywhere is Russia," said Mr. Rybakov philosophically. "Everywhere you go...Russia."

"Now I want you to place your upturned palm on the table," Vladimir instructed. "I will quickly throw the money in there, you put the money in your wallet, and we shall consider this matter closed."

"I would prefer not to," said Aleksander Rybakov, the Soviet Bartleby. "Look," he said. "Here's what we'll do. Come on over to my house. We'll talk. The Fan likes his tea early on Mondays. Oh, and we'll have Jack Daniel's, and beluga, and luscious sturgeon, too. I live on Eighty-seventh Street, right next to the Guggenheim Museum, that eyesore. But it's a nice penthouse, views of the park, a Sub-Zero refrigerator...A lot more civilized than this place, you'll see...Forget about your duties here. Helping Equadorians move to America, it's a pointless task. Come, let's be friends!"

"You live on the Upper East Side...?" Vladimir babbled. "A penthouse? On Social Security? But how can it be?" He had the dizzy impression that the room had begun to sway. The only enjoyment Vladimir derived from his job was encountering foreigners even more flummoxed by American society than he was. But today this simple pleasure was proving highly elusive. "Where did you get the money?" Vladimir demanded of his client. "Who bought you this zero refrigerator?"

The Fan Man reached over and pinched Vladimir's nose between thumb and forefinger, a familiar Russian gesture reserved for small children. "I'm psychotic," the Fan Man explained. "But I'm no idiot."

From The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart, Copyright © June 2002, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Perfectionists
    The Perfectionists
    by Simon Winchester
    We seek precision in our lives every day. We want to drive from home to work and work to home safely...
  • Book Jacket: Beauty in the Broken Places
    Beauty in the Broken Places
    by Allison Pataki
    Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are "strong at the broken places," and Allison Pataki found that to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes was read and reviewed by 22 BookBrowse members for First ...
  • Book Jacket: The Judge Hunter
    The Judge Hunter
    by Christopher Buckley
    In London 1664, Balthasar de St. Michel or "Balty" has no discernable skills besides pestering his ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Tabor
    by Cherise Wolas

    Wolas's gorgeously rendered sophomore novel reckons with the nature of the stories we tell ourselves.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Summer Wives
    by Beatriz Williams

    An electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power and redemption set on an island off the New England coast.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.