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Super Sad True Love Story (Shteyngart)

Super Sad True Love Story
Gary Sheytngart, 2010
Random House
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812977868

Summary
In a very near future—oh, let’s say next Tuesday—a functionally illiterate America is about to collapse. But don’t that tell that to poor Lenny Abramov, the thirty-nine-year-old son of an angry Russian immigrant janitor, proud author of what may well be the world’s last diary, and less-proud owner of a bald spot shaped like the great state of Ohio.

Despite his job at an outfit called Post-Human Services, which attempts to provide immortality for its super-rich clientele, death is clearly stalking this cholesterol-rich morsel of a man. And why shouldn’t it? Lenny’s from a different century—he totally loves books (or “printed, bound media artifacts,” as they’re now known), even though most of his peers find them smelly and annoying. But even more than books, Lenny loves Eunice Park, an impossibly cute and impossibly cruel twenty-four-year-old Korean American woman who just graduated from Elderbird College with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness.

After meeting Lenny on an extended Roman holiday, blistering Eunice puts that Assertiveness minor to work, teaching our “ancient dork” effective new ways to brush his teeth and making him buy a cottony nonflammable wardrobe. But America proves less flame-resistant than Lenny’s new threads. The country is crushed by a credit crisis, riots break out in New York’s Central Park, the city’s streets are lined with National Guard tanks on every corner, the dollar is so over, and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess.

Undeterred, Lenny vows to love both Eunice and his homeland. He’s going to convince his fickle new love that in a time without standards or stability, in a world where single people can determine a dating prospect’s “hotness” and “sustainability” with the click of a button, in a society where the privileged may live forever but the unfortunate will die all too soon, there is still value in being a real human being.

Wildly funny, rich, and humane, Super Sad True Love Story is a knockout novel by a young master, a book in which falling in love just may redeem a planet falling apart. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—July 5, 1972
Where—Leningrad, USSR
Education—B.A., Oberlin College (Ohio); M.F.A.,
   Hunter College (NYC)
Awards—Stephen Crane Award; National Jewish
   Book Award
Currently—lives in New York, New York

Gary Shteyngart (born Igor Semyonovich Shteyngart) is an American writer born in Leningrad, USSR. Much of his work is satirical and relies on the invention of elaborately fictitious yet somehow familiar places and times.

Background
Shteyngart spent the first seven years of his childhood living in a square dominated by a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin in what is now St. Petersburg, Russia; (he alternately calls it "St. Leningrad" or "St. Leninsburg"). He comes from a Jewish family and describes his family as typically Soviet. His father worked as an engineer in a LOMO camera factory; his mother was a pianist.

In 1979 when Gary was 7, the Shteyngart family immigrated to the United States, where he was brought up with no television in his family's New York City apartment and where English was not the household language. He did not shed his thick Russian accent until the age of 14.

Later Shteyngart traveled to Prague, an experience that inspired his first novel, set in the fictitious European city of Prava. He is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York City; Oberlin College in Ohio, where he earned a degree in politics; and Hunter College of the City University of New York, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing.

Writing career
Shteyngart took a trip to Prague which inspired his first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), which is set in the fictitious European city of Prava. He has published two more novels: Absurdistan (2006) and Super Sad True Love Story (2010). His fourth book, Little Failure (2014), is a memoir recounting his family's emigration to the U.S. in 1979.

His other writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Granta, Travel and Leisure, and The New York Times.

Shteyngart's work has received numerous awards. The Russian Debutante's Handbook won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. It was named a New York Times Notable Book and one of the best debuts of the year by The Guardian. In 2002, he was named one of the five best new writers by Shout NY Magazine. Absurdistan was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Revieww and Time magazine, as well as a book of the year by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and many other publications. In June 2010, Shteyngart was named as one of The New Yorker magazine's "20 under 40" luminary fiction writers. Super Sad True Love Story won the 2011 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic literature.

Personal
Shteyngart now lives in New York City. He has taught writing at Hunter College, and currently teaches writing at Columbia University. During the Fall of 2007, he also had a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany.

Shteyngart is married to Esther Won who is of Korean descent. In October 2013, they became parents to Johnny Won Shteyngart. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/14/2014.)



Book Reviews
Gary Shteyngart's wonderful new novel…is a supersad, superfunny, superaffecting performance—a book that not only showcases the ebullient satiric gifts he demonstrated in his entertaining 2002 debut, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, but that also uncovers his abilities to write deeply and movingly about love and loss and mortality.... In recounting the story of Lenny and Eunice in his antic, supercaffeinated prose, Mr. Shteyngart gives us his most powerful and heartfelt novel yet—a novel that performs the delightful feat of mashing up an apocalyptic satire with a genuine supersad true love story.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


the writing is never less than stylish and witty, and the sense of disaster, here as in Shteyngart's other novels, is unfailingly lyrical, performed for full, funny rhetorical orchestra....The sheer exhilaration of the writing in this book—Lenny's confessional tones, Eunice's teenage slang—is itself a sort of answer to the flattened-out horrors of the world it depicts. It's not that writing of any kind will save us from our follies or our rulers; but words are a form of life, and we can't say we haven't been warned.
Michael Wood - New York Times Book Review


A slit-your-wrist satire illuminated by [Shteyngart's] absurd wit.... This zany Russian immigrant loops the comedy of Woody Allen's "Sleeper" through the grim insights of George Orwell's 1984 to produce a "Super Sad True Love Story" that exposes the moral bankruptcy of our techno-lust.... But what pulls on our affections and keeps the satire from growing too brittle is Lenny's earnest voice as he struggles to fit into a world that clearly has no more use for him.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian novel deserves a place on the shelf beside 1984 and Brave New World....The surprising and brilliant third novel from Russian-American satirist Shteyngart is actually two love stories.... Shteyngart writes with an obvious affection for America—at its most chilling, Super Sad True Love Story comes across as a cri de coeur from an author scared for his country. The biggest risk for any dystopian novel with a political edge is that it can easily become humorless or didactic; Shteyngart deftly avoids this trap by employing his disarming and absurd sense of humor (much of which is unprintable here). Combined with the near-future setting, the effect is a novel more immediate—and thus more frightening, at least for contemporary readers—than similarly themed books by Orwell, Huxley and Atwood.
NPR, Books We Like


Exuberant and devastating...such an acidly funny, prescient book.... It’s a wildly funny book that hums with the sheer vibrancy of Shteyngart’s prose, and that holds up a riotous, terrifying mirror to a corrupted American empire in decline.
Entertainment Weekly


(Starred review.) Shteyngart (Absurdistan) presents another profane and dizzying satire, a dystopic vision of the future as convincing—and, in its way, as frightening—as Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's also a pointedly old-fashioned May-December love story, complete with references to Chekhov and Tolstoy. Mired in protracted adolescence, middle-aged Lenny Abramov is obsessed with living forever (he works for an Indefinite Life Extension company), his books (an anachronism of this indeterminate future), and Eunice Park, a 20-something Korean-American. Eunice, though reluctant and often cruel, finds in Lenny a loving but needy fellow soul and a refuge from her overbearing immigrant parents. Narrating in alternate chapters—Lenny through old-fashioned diary entries, Eunice through her online correspondence—the pair reveal a funhouse-mirror version of contemporary America: terminally indebted to China, controlled by the singular Bipartisan Party (Big Brother as played by a cartoon otter in a cowboy hat), and consumed by the superficial. Shteyngart's earnestly struggling characters—along with a flurry of running gags—keep the nightmare tour of tomorrow grounded. A rich commentary on the obsessions and catastrophes of the information age and a heartbreaker worthy of its title, this is Shteyngart's best yet.
Publishers Weekly


This cyber-apocalyptic vision of an American future seems eerily like the present, in a bleak comedy that is even more frightening than funny. Though Shteyngart received rave reviews for his first two novels (The Russian Debutante's Daughter, 2001; Absurdistan, 2006), those appear in retrospect to be trial runs for his third and darkest to date. Russian immigrant Lenny Abramov returns home to Manhattan of the indeterminate future, following a year in Italy, only to find his career as "Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator (Grade G) of the Post-Human Services division" in jeopardy. Just shy of 40, he is already coming to terms with his mortality amid the scorn of much younger, hipper careerists, as he markets eternal life to those with the wherewithal to afford it. The narrative alternates between the diary entries of Lenny and the computer log of Eunice Park, his much younger and reluctant Korean girlfriend whom he'd met in Italy and eventually persuaded to join him in the States. Lenny's diary is itself an anachronism, since this "post-literate age" lacks the patience to scan text for anything longer than political bromides or marketing pitches. The society at large finds books "smelly," though Lenny still collects and even reads them. "Media" has become an adjective (positive, all-purpose) as well as a noun, and some familiar institutions have morphed into Fox-Ultra and The New York Lifestyle Times. Both Lenny and Eunice are fully fleshed-out characters rather than satiric caricatures, but their matter-of-fact acceptance of Bi-Partisanship masking a police state, and of the illiterate, ebullient and Orwellian American Restoration Authority as a bulwark against the country's collapse (the waiting list to move to Canada exceeds 23 million), makes this cautionary tale all the more chilling. The narrative proceeds in a surprising yet inevitable manner to the outcome the title promises. When Lenny realizes "I can't connect in any meaningful way to anyone," he's writing about not merely a technological breakdown but the human condition, where the line distinguishing comedy from tragedy dissolves.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. What elements of Shteyngart’s dystopian near-future do you see in our contemporary world?

2. In that same vein, do you feel that we really are in, or are headed for, a post-literate age? Have a media-saturated environment and short attention spans affected our ability to read and appreciate books?

3. Lenny and Eunice come from two opposing cultures and have different ethnic backgrounds. While he is a ruminative book reader, hers is the generation of the instant and fleeting. For all their differences, why do you think Lenny and Eunice are drawn together? What do they share in common in terms of their personal history?

4. After a trip home to Long Island, Lenny contemplates an existence that is “at the end of the busted rainbow, at the end of the day, at the end of the empire.” What does he mean by this? Do you feel that we are at the end of an era?

5.Lenny’s employer, Post Human Services, offers the promise of life extension for High Net Worth individuals. How do you think losing the assurance of death, a great equalizer, would affect the dynamic of society? If you had the option, would you seek out immortality?

6. Super Sad True Love Story is an epistolary novel—one written as a series of documents. Discuss the how Shteyngart’s use of diary entries and digital exchanges impacted your reading experience.

7. One target of Shteyngart’s satire is the value placed on youthfulness. Discuss how this preoccupation manifests itself in the novel—consider Eunice’s relationship with Lenny and Joshie, The Post Human Services, and representations of the elderly.

8. Lenny has been described as a twentieth century man in a twenty-first century world. How, specifically, is he anachronistic to the “new” New York?

9. Shteyngart includes elements of science fiction, romance, and dystopian fantasy. How do you think each of these genres manifests itself in the novel? Why is each important?

10. Super Sad True Love Story treads into dark territory—mortality, heartbreak, the demise of a culture—yet, as a satire, it relies heavily on humor for its social criticism. In your opinion, how important is humor in evaluating and responding to the world in which we live? 

11. Though Super Sad True Love Story  is set in the (very near) future, there is a strong immigrant presence that also harkens back to the American past. Discuss the portrayal and significance of immigrants in the novel.

12. In the Super Sad universe, there is no such thing as a private detail. In our world, what do you feel are the benefits and pitfalls of social media? Where should we draw the line in terms of what we broadcast about our personal lives?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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