Shteyngart on Shteynfarb

Gary Shteyngart engages in a little self-mockery in his latest novel, Absurdistan.

Rouenna was looking over the control panel of the new washing machine I had airlifted out of Berlin. “How does this work, boy-o?”

“The instructions are in German.”

“Duh, I can see they’re not in English. Show, don’t tell.”


“Show, don’t tell.”

“Meaning what?”

“It’s something Professor Shteynfarb always says in my fiction class. Like instead of expositing about something, you just gotta come out and say it.”

“You’re taking a writing class with Jerry Shteynfarb?

“You know him, spuds? He’s awesome. He says I have a really authoritarian voice. And you got to have an authoritarian voice to write phat fiction.”

“He said what?” I dropped a tub of detergent on my weaty left foot…. I immediately saw Rouenna and Shteynfarb together in bed.

Let me give you an idea of this Jerry Shteynfarb. He had been a schoolmate of mine at Accidental College, a perfectly Americanized Russian émigré (he came to the States as a seven-year-old) who managed to use his dubious Russian credentials to rise through the ranks of the Accidental creative writing department and to sleep with half the campus in the process. After graduation, he made good on his threat to write a novel, a sad little dirge about his immigrant life, which seems to me the luckiest kind of life imaginable. I think it was calles The Russian Arriviste’s Hand Job or something of the sort. The Americans, naturally, ate it up.

Stay tuned for more on Absurdistan, and for some notes on the bang-up reading and interview Shteyngart gave Upstairs at the Square last night.


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