Gary Shteyngart’s 2002 novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, charts the rising panic of hapless Vladimir Girshkin as he drifts, stateless, from the USSR to the Lower East Side to the cartoonishly Slavic city of Prava, a crumbling post-Soviet capital of opportunists, wastrels, and thieves. Manic, absurd, and mournfully comic, the book gives coming-of-age tropes a bracing kick in the balls, but it’s also a wistful meditation on identity, played out against the backdrop of eastern Europe’s own late-20th-century struggles with the same. Shteyngart is no stranger to the material: born in Leningrad, he emigrated to the States in 1979 and has bounced around ever since–most recently to Italy, where he’s been working on his second novel, “Absurdistan,” for the last year. This event, sponsored by Nextbook, a nonprofit promoter of Jewish culture and literature, pairs him with novelist Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex) for what the PR describes as “a conversation (and possibly a serenade or two) on literature, wanderlust, and roiling epics.” Shteyngart will also read from his work; Eugenides, who recently decamped from Berlin to Chicago, acts as interlocutor. Wed 1/12, 7:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 312-247-4074 for info, 888-621-2230 for reservations, which are recommended.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/John Foley, Karen Yamauchi.