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5 Best Gary Shteyngart Books (2023)

Best Gary Shteyngart BooksA Brilliant Satirical Writer

Gary Shteyngart is a brilliant satirical writer as well as the star of this article. This talented novelist is from a fallen country that many of us still have controversial feelings for, the Soviet Union. He was born in July 1972 and spent his first seven years living in a block that was always under the shadow of an enormous Vladimir Lenin statue.

Typically Soviet Family

The author describes his family as the typical Soviet people of the time. They were of Jewish origin and his father who was an engineer worked hard in a “LOMO” camera factory while his mother was an artist playing the piano. They would all migrate to the United States in 1979 and settle down in Chicago, New York.

It took a while for Gary to get used to living in America mostly as his family never let go of any part of their Russian Culture which went as far as speaking Russian amongst themselves. He eventually got into writing which he was enthusiastic about since his childhood years and he also earned a politics degree from Oberlin College.


Best Gary Shteyngart Books


Super Sad True Love Story

 

A Boring Dystopia

I wanted to start this article off with one of the best selling Gary Shteyngart books that is Super Sad True Love Story. I want to warn my readers not to be tricked by the title of this piece though. While it is a love story that is in fact super sad, it is not a “true” one but a fictional one that takes place in a dystopian United States many years into the future.

This one of the best books by Gary Shteyngart provides us with a very bleak world in which the United States that we know and love is “a functionally illiterate” society. Oh, and it is also on the brink of its collapse. Our guide in this harrowing setting is the thirty years old Lenny Abramov who is the son of a very angry Russian immigrant working as a janitor.

“Printed, Bound Media Artifacts”

But hold your horses, there is a lot more to Lenny than these. He is also the author of what he assumes to be one of the last diaries on the face of the earth as well as an avid reader of books which most people call “printed, bound media artifacts” in his day. Along with these, the author explicitly states that he has a bald spot on his head in the shape of Ohio State.

There is also a woman named Eunice Park whom the dorky Lenny is head-over-toes in love with. She is a Korean American and is a recent graduate of Elberbird College with an “Images” major and an “Assertiveness” minor. She and the bald boy are kind of a thing but let’s just say she is sometimes not as affectionate as she is cruel against him.

The Value of Being a Real Human

Oh, I mentioned something about the country slowly coming to the point of complete destruction, didn’t I? Yeah… so, that happens. A credit crisis breaks the whole country and soon enough, mobs of civilians are rioting out against National Guards who are standing by with tanks on about every corner. And as if all of these were not enough, foreign creditors are knocking on the door for their money as the dollar steadily walks into its grave.

Still, there remains a beacon of hope in the form of a balding Russian American. Leny swears to both his love and his country that he will make things right. No matter how uncertain the future is and how devoid of soul his people have become, he is going to prove that it is still not late to be “real humans”. The long journey that awaits him in this way makes up the story of this one of the best Gary Shteyngart novels.


Lake Success

 

The Latest Work of the Author

The second piece that I will be talking about in the article is going to be the latest Gary Shteyngart book, Lake Success. It was published just five years ago, in 2018 but is among the author’s most well known works despite that. It is also worth mentioning that it was a nominee for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in the Fiction category.

The new Gary Shteyngart book narrates a portion of hedge-fund manager Barry Cohen’s life. Barry is a big man from the looks of him as he oversees assets that are worth more than two billion dollars in total. However, he also suffers from a condition called not being a decent human being. He is a highly narcissistic person and in his mind, he is completely divorced from reality.

As One Does

At the start of the story, the deluded manager is going through a rather stressful episode. Not only the Securities and Exchange Commission investigators are pushing their noses all up in his business, but his three years old son has also just been diagnosed with autism. So, just like any sane narcissist would do, he runs away from his troubles with no regard for anyone but himself.

He takes a Greyhound bus for a one-way trip to a more colorful and simpler life. He is set on building a new life with his old college sweetheart all the while his wife waits for him at their home. Speaking of it, his wife Seema is a driven woman smart enough to be considered a genius who has been chasing the ideal family image that she thinks can only be achieved with a lot of money.

A Joke of a Book

I would not want my readers to be upset in her name so I will now share some good news, Seema cheats on her husband too! Well, I guess that is not exactly good news but still, it makes her story less tragic. Her love interest is a lot cooler than an old ex as well. The man she is having an affair with is a writer from Guatemala.

This piece is one of my favorite additions to this list of Gary Shteyngart book reviews. The most hilarious thing about it is just how hard it is to feel any sympathy or love for any of the characters. It is also very clear that the author knowingly included boring chapters to piss off the reader. The whole book is a joke with the reader at the butt of it and it is one of the best Gary Shteyngart books, especially for that reason.


Little Failure

 

His Most Personal Issues

This is about the halfway point of our article and now, I will go over one of the top rated Gary Shteyngart books, Little Failure. This piece stands out like a sore thumb in the author’s portfolio as it is not a fiction book but an autobiography. The author apparently spared no shame to put in this piece as he talks about some of the most personal matters of his early life.

I mentioned that the author was born in the Soviet Union at the beginning of the article. The author too begins his tale with that. Of course, he was named Igor Semyonovich Shtenygart back then. Igor was a curious boy with minor asthma and an obsession with desiring things. He wrote his first novel Lenin and His Magical Goose when he was just five years of age and got paid a slice of cheese per page by her grandma.

A Hard Transition

He shares how the late seventies was a period of great change and turmoil for him. This period would start with a trade deal between Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, gallons of grain in exchange for a safe passage to America for the Soviet Jews. It is worth mentioning that having been brought up in the Union, Igor was thinking of America as a bad place to be and as “the enemy”.

After that, the author talks all about his initial years of getting used to the American way which he described as “…stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.”. One of the biggest pointers from this part would be the little writer changing his name to “Gary” in the hopes that it will save him one or two beatings.

Mama’s Precious Failurchka

This one of the best Gary Shteyngart books also gives the reader an opportunity to witness the relationship between the author and his parents. They loved their son as all parents do but they also had high expectations of him. When they figured out that he “was not cut out to” be a lawyer or a stock trader, his mother invented the term “Failurchka” for him which is a half-Russian and half-English term that roughly means little failure.

So, this was the life of the writer for quite a long time. I honestly think that this is the most tragic piece in this Gary Shteyngart book list as it is just heartbreaking to read that the author believed he would fail at everything for the longest time and how much he needed love in his life despite not knowing it. This piece is definitely a strong contender for the best Gary Shteyngart book title.


Absurdistan

 

What a Lucky Man

The fourth piece that I will be shortly introducing in this article is going to be another one of the most popular Gary Shteyngart books. I know this might be a shocker but this piece by the author provides us with a story that is as odd and weird as it gets. I should also mention that the title of this piece does not make fun of a particular country, it is just the name of the fictional place that the novel is set in.

The hero of this contender for the best Gary Shteyngart book title is a giant of a man named Misha Vainberg. Along with having an impressive physique, he is also the proud son of the 1238th richest man in Russia. In his free time, this lucky man can be seen eating large proportions of food, drinking his ass off, and enjoying some rap music as well as performing it.

Lovers Separated by Business Interests

I assume it is clear enough by now that no Shteyngart book is complete without a little love and in the case of this one, it comes from a South Bronx Latina living in New York City. The young Vainberg is oh so desperate to rejoin her in the shortest time but there is a pretty big thorn in his way. See, his father got into a rivalry with an Oklahoma businessman and the American INS did not like that one bit.

By all means, Misha is stuck in Russia. He can neither visit his adopted homeland, the United States nor spend even the smallest amount of time with the woman he so adores. However, he still has hope. He learns that there is a small but oil-rich country named Absurdistan. The nice thing about this place is that it is so corrupt he can just buy a Belgian passport from there.

Through Thin and Thick

Unfortunately, Misha’s luck still does not seem too eager to come out and play. A civil war starts wrecking the tiny country almost as soon as the protagonist arrives there. He too is caught up in the war between two ethnic groups when he is appointed as the Minister of Multicultural Affairs by a local warlord. A job that is pretty swell in the civilized world but just means a target on your back in times of war.

Misha who came to Absurdistan to run away from Russia has become trapped there instead and his life has been turned upside down. The rest of this addition to the Gary Shteyngart books ranked list is made up of Misha being unable to get away from the weird events in his life and starting to question who he is in the process. Overall, Absurdistan is a great Gart Shteyngart novel but I doubt it can be considered the best one.


The Russian Debutante’s Handbook

 

The Debut Novel

It is about time that I wrap up this article with the last one of the Gary Shetngart books that I have in order for my readers, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. The main thing to know about this piece is the fact that it was the author’s first-ever publication. Gary was inspired by a trip to Prague that he took in the early nineties and he completed this piece about ten years later, in 2002.

This book also marks the start of the author’s tradition of writing about immigrant protagonists. In this case, he is named Vladimir Girshkin. He is twenty-five years of age and is in a dead  relationship with an obese dungeon mistress. He does not really have a good thing going on with his family either which is signified by his mother calling him by the name “little failure”.

A Very Sad Existence

The young Russian American spends his day working at an immigrant resettlement agency called Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society and tries to survive on his non-profit wage. The unfortunate guy basically pulled all of the shortest sticks in life that he could and he lives a sad existence. He can not help but be a spectator to his life toiling away day by day.

One day, his boring life is intercepted by a rejected Russian immigrant coming to him for help. Around the same, he also dumps his girlfriend and gets with an upscale New York woman from a well-off family in the hopes that it will help him live a better life. That, of course, does not happen and he finds himself in a world of trouble as a result of these two events and some more.

A Sense of Belonging

As a consequence of the situation Vladimir put himself in, he must run away from the United State with nothing but his life. He runs away to the cultural mecca of his world which is Parava, the capital of the Eastern European country of Stolovan. Most of the people there are young immigrants from the United States and all across Europe. The protagonist feels a sense of belonging for the first time thanks to this land filled with outsiders.

I will leave the rest of this one of the best rated books by Gary Shenteyngart for each reader to figure out themselves. What I will say is that it is a brilliant comedy and its talented writing is worlds beyond impressive considering the fact this is the author’s first work. The Russian Debuante’s Handbook was thoroughly enjoyable for me and it is definitely one of the best Gary Shteyngart novels out there.


Final Thoughts

 

There are a lot of things that go into being a good writer. One of these things is to have led a life that is at least a little interesting. Well, Gary’s life is more colorful than an oil painter’s sketchbook and he knows just how to utilize that. His writings feel alive because he puts his own experiences into them. He expresses himself through his craft since every joke and every little detail in his work is a personal statement. If you ask me, I would say that Gary Shteyngart is a true artist.

Michael Englert

Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.