Monday, July 16, 2007


Whilst picking up 'Londonistan' in Frankfurt, I came across 'Absurdistan' ...here a 'stan, there a 'stan, everywhere a 'stan, 'stan.

At first I thought I would not like Gary Shteingart's novel, but I persisted. It's a bit of a bloke's book, but yet, as you get more into it, it's a biting satire and ironic. The hero, Misha, the son of the 1283.-richest guy Russia, is born in Leningrad (also the author's birthplace) and sent to the US for his circumcision, being Jewish, (aged 18) and to attend college. Like many rich people, he undergoes therapy and is dependent on his therapist. He is also an extremely large guy, and it's only in the US that he finds love for the first time.

However, he returns to Russia, and then finds that he is banned from re-entering the US since his father killed an American. So he looks for all sorts of ways of getting the visa, finally travelling to Absurdistan (Azerbaijan) where he is told he can get a Belgian passport. In Absurdistan all sorts of shenanigans are going on, involving oil, the Halliburton company (the US government's major contractor also in Iraq), and a bit of Rwandan/Armenian [Nagorno Karabakh], Georgian (Adjara) genocide/ethnic cleansing thrown in.

It's a weird mixture of Misha's obsessions (sex, not entirely surprisingly, seeing as his circumcision went slightly wrong), but it also seems that his heart is in the right place, though his emotional needs for acceptance and love often lead him astray.

Once you get past all the weird stuff at the beginning, it's very funny and probably also more factual than you would like to believe (even if the facts of different countries may have been thrown together in some places). The events described could very easily happen in any of the countries in the south of the former Soviet Union, where politics by shenanigan are still the order of the day.

And is it really true that Dick Cheney was formerly Chief Executive of Halliburton? See also here. It makes your hair stand on end!