My interview with author Gary Shteyngart appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper last Wednesday. Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story (2010), Absurdistan (2006) and The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2003), will be reading at Pittsburgh's City of Asylum Series, which takes place at Mattress Factory tonight. The Warhol's Interim Executive Director and Milton Curator of Fine Art Eric Shiner will introduce Shteyngart.
I've reposted part of the conversation with Shteyngart here, just below. To read the interview in its entirety, click here.
"LOVE & RUINS" (from Pittsburgh City Paper)
Savannah Schroll Guz
Gary Shteyngart's novels are both satirical and prescient. And while his books deal with individual experience, his characters offer broader, incisive commentary on the grim nature of the human condition and global society's ever-shifting tectonics.
Born in Leningrad, in 1972, Shteyngart was brought to America at the age of 7 and grew up in an austere Russian household. His first two novels incorporate the tension of his own dueling cultural identities. The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2003) and Absurdistan (2006) -- named one of the year's 10 best books by The New York Times Book Review -- thrum with the angst of second-generation immigrants seeking to establish themselves under the weight of crippling, often parentally imposed, expectations.
This subject takes a back seat in his third novel, last year's Super Sad True Love Story (Random House), whose focus is a seemingly improbable relationship that develops amid a chillingly familiar social and political landscape. In the face of economic and political collapse, a hopelessly backward-looking man in his late 30s teaches an initially insensitive twenty-something female that the most redemptive kind of hope is not found in popularity or politics, but in love. The book, along with his previous work, earned Shteyngart a spot in The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" list of literary stars.
Shteyngart reads at City Of Asylum on Tue., May 10. City Paper interviewed him via email at his home in New York City.
SSG: Since The Russian Debutante's Handbook, you've moved from protagonists in their late teens/early twenties to the late-thirties Lenny Abramov of Super Sad True Love Story. How much do you identify with your main characters?
GS: I like to write about people my age. As I grow older and older I encounter a whole new set of fears and anxieties to add to my list of golden oldies. You should see my cholesterol levels. Vladimir [from Debutante] reminds me of my insecure college years in your neighbor Ohio (that's when I started writing the book); Misha [Absurdistan] is too large and in charge to be autobiographical; and this new nebbish of mine, Lenny, has a very different bald spot from the one I have.
SSG: In an interview with The New York Times, you mention the influence of writers like Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. In light of your more recent exploration of American-based dystopia, do you look to any other influences?
GS: Well, I've always been a huge fan of dystopia. I grew up in the Soviet Union and went to Hebrew school in Queens. Enough said. I loved 1984 and Brave New World as a kid. I think 1984 sticks out in my mind because it's a love story set against a horrifying society. Julia and Winston love each other and that's what I remember so well about that book. It was an inspiration when I started writing Super Sad True Love Story....
To read the interview in its entirety, click here.
* * * *