I just finished this book this morning, and although I am not a huge fan, I do have a lot to say about it. The story unfolds from two primary perspectives, which are that of Lenny Abramov (from a Russian immigrant family) and Eunice Park (from a Korean immigrant family). During a recent writing workshop I had attended, the instructor described how she views characters from her favorite books as “long-lost friends.” Although I wouldn’t consider my favorite characters “long-lost friends,” I find them inspiring, or likeable, or broken but relatable, or adventurous, or mysterious and intriguing, or any combination of these things. But during the progression of the story, I was never able to attach myself to any of the characters–especially Lenny and Eunice.
Maybe it’s because Shteyngart didn’t really give me any reason to like Lenny. In fact, he creeped me out: an old white man helplessly (and sort of pathetically) in love with a much younger Korean girl and described as a loser throughout the entire book? No thanks. Not to mention yellow fever is real, and I felt like just that fact put a distance between Lenny and I (being a Korean American myself).
That of course leaves Eunice, who could have potentially been my fictional seoul sister. But all she did throughout the entire book was feel sorry herself. No, literally. And neither character redeemed themselves for me at the end, which was really disappointing. I will say that her accounts were more interesting to me because I’ve never read about a Korean family in popular American literature before, so I was somewhat happy about that (but not sure how I felt about the fact that it was written by a Russian dude). To his credit, Shteyngart did a pretty good job of dropping in some Korean terms in the book and painting a picture of what might be a Korean-immigrant Protestant-church experience (often frightening and sad).
Another thing that was pretty annoying about Eunice was her language. Yea, the story takes place in a “near-future dystopia,” but I can’t picture any person talking the way she does in any-topia. For example, who calls sex “pussy magic time”? I was majorly turned off by the ridiculousness of some of the things she said.
There was only one passage in the book that I really liked and highlighted for myself:
“Anyway, I was really worried Dad would bring up Lenny, and at one point I thought he was about to, because we were all alone and he really changes when we’re alone, the mask just drops off and it’s all about how I’ve failed him and mom, but all he said was “How are you, Eunice?” And I almost freaking started to cry, because he never asked me that in my life. I was just like ‘Uh-huh, fine, uh-huh,” and then it was like I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was happy or just scared because it seemed so final for him to ask me that, like he’d never see me again. I wondered what he would do if I just threw my arms around him.”
That last line got me, because sometimes I want to do the same thing.
Ultimately, critics seem to really appreciate this book, but it was definitely meh for me.
My rating: 2/5 stars.
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