I’ve never tried posting a review from GoodReads, so thought I’d try a little experiment here:
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A quirky, prescient story set in the not-too-distant future. Comprised of the diary of Lenny Ambramov, interspersed with the “GlobalTeens” (aka Facebook?) communications of his girlfriend, Eunice Park, the book extrapolates from our current cultural trends to imagine the future dystopia of what will be left of the United States, or more specifically, New York City. It is a world where people are publicly identified by their Credit Ranking, where nation-states have been replaced by corporations (compare Atwood’s Year of the Flood, and where the United States has become entirely enfolded into China (with sections parceled out to Norway).
Shteyngart’s social commentary is oblique and allusive, again projecting from our current cultural habits into an imagined future. One might describe it as the ubiquitization of a Facebook sensibility, where everything is made public–our Credit Rankings are displayed on “credit poles” that line the street; our emotions and thoughts are made public on äppäräts dangling from our necks; and nothing is left to the imagination as all the young women are wearing transparent “onionskin” jeans.
The story also tackles the identity issues of the 1.5 immigrant generation: Lenny the child of Russian Jews but raised on Long Island; Eunice the daughter of Korean Christians, raised in southern California, transplanted to New Jersey. And in the midst of all of this, Lenny works for a company that is sorting out the science of immortality. Fertile soil for philosophical and theological reflection.
The novel combines strong narrative force with exquisite attention to detail. There are a couple of mechanical moves late in the book that I found lazy and a bit disappointing from a formal standpoint, but these don’t obscure its strengths. I hope to write much more on the novel elsewhere.