Future Imperfect

Super Sad True Love Story
Gary Shteyngart
Random House, $26, 334 pp.

In a “postliterate age” not too far hence, books are out of fashion—reviled for their limitations and their supposedly foul smell. Everyone communicates with electronic devices called äppäräti, and “text-scanning for data” has replaced “reading.” The propaganda produced by the bankrupt, totalitarian United States government is riddled with spelling errors. In this brave new world, New Yorker Lenny Abramov, who suffers from the “ancient Jewish affliction for words,” turns for comfort to his dog-eared copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He pauses to consider the “laudatory quotes for the author and his work on the first page of the book from the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New York Times...even something called Commonweal. What had happened to all these publications?”

Like Milan Kundera before him, Gary Shteyngart has been lauded in publications big and small. His 2002 fiction debut, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, earned him comparisons to Nabokov, his fellow Russian immigrant. Shteyngart poked fun at this reputation in his second book, Absurdistan (2006), in which his main character, a Russian-Jewish world-traveling slob, loses a girl to a predatory fiction-writing instructor called Jerry Shteynfarb.

Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart’s clever new novel, features another wandering Russian Jew, this time navigating a dystopia that represents one possible outcome of...

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About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is Commonweal's associate editor at large. She blogs at dotCommonweal.