In the excerpt, Shteyngart’s fat protagonist, Misha, placidly eats salami and pulls at his breast tissue as he prepares for a move with his mother from Russia to the States. His father, who’s staying behind, lays a guilt trip on our hero and then orders him to deliver himself, upon arrival in America, to some men who will circumcise him.
According to Kirn, things don’t go as planned for Misha in the New World. He winds up in Absurdistan, a country “divided between two ancient Christian traditions. The schismatic distinction is the tiny line that the sects draw through the bottoms of their crosses” (if you can’t envision a cross drawn this way, take a look at the Russian Orthodox version). “Compared with most young novelists his age, who tend toward cutesy involution,” says Kirn, “Shteyngart is a giant mounted on horseback. He ranges more widely, sees more sweepingly and gets where he’s going with far more aplomb.”
There’s also an audio interview in which Shteyngart names Roth and Bellow as influences.