Absurdistan focuses on the larger than life character Misha Vainberg, a Russian-born, American-educated, Jewish man whose only goal is to return to New York and the woman he loves. He's trapped back in Russia, unable to get a visa because his mobster father, the 1,238th richest man in Russia, killed an Oklahoma businessman. Determined to be reunited with his beloved Rouenna, Misha decides to travel to Absurdistan, a small country on the coast of the Caspian Sea, where he has the connections to obtain a Belgian passport, enabling him to return to the States. Absurdistan happens to be in the middle of civil war however, and Misha gets caught up in the politics surrounding that war. This is where we see a shift in both the novel and in the thinking of our protagonist. Because, unlike the life Misha has previously known, nothing in Absurdistan is what it appears. Misha must make important decisions that will alter his life, a task which he has previously been less than inclined to do. In Misha Vainberg, author Gary Shteyngart creates a lead character that will stay with you long after you've finished the novel. Misha is at once melancholy, jubilant, timid, fierce, simple-minded and complex. His dichotomy reflects the book's overall satirical nature; his desire and his reality set against a background of fiction that tries to pass itself off as fact. Readers may easily identify the absurdities of the novel with real-life occurrences, companies, and places, and the question of whether or not this book is based on real events could be asked.
Recommended by John Kulikowski