Friday, October 29, 2010

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art?

Super Sad True Love Story
(Image from Amazon)

From reading Clifford J. Levy's NYT article on Gary Shteyngart, "A Wayward Son Checks in With Mother Russia" (October 24, 2010), I suppose that there's yet another fine contemporary author in addition to David Mitchell whose works I ought to read. Or should I read those of his doppelgänger, Igor Semyonovich Shteyngart? Wait a minute -- which is which? Anyway, so many decisions . . .
"The thing about Russia is that, for a satirist, it's almost too easy," he told an audience in Moscow after reading from his new novel, "Super Sad True Love Story," which revolves around the relationship between Lenny, a son of Soviet immigrants, and Eunice, daughter of Korean ones. The setting is a futuristic America in bedraggled decline, but, as Mr. Shteyngart points out, he learned everything that he needed to know about decaying superpowers from the collapse of you know what. "Having Russia and America -- these two giant empires -- under your belt, as a writer, you can't ask for anything better," he said.
I guess that means that his art imitates his life:
On this trip, sponsored by the State Department, Mr. Shteyngart also gathered material for a memoir that is to be his next work. And he showed his fiancée, who is of Korean descent, the nostalgic sites of his St. Petersburg childhood.
Yep. Guess so. But the Korean connection, at any rate, makes me more open to taking a chance on this writer. And there may be something in common between Russians and Koreans:
But literature here has usually been rigidly labeled as Russian or foreign.

"There is this basic split in people’s minds -- you are either here or there," said Tatyana Venediktova, a professor at Moscow State who specializes in American literature and helped organize Mr. Shteyngart's talk on campus. "This split identity -- Gary's -- is taken as a wound to be healed rather than a resource to be used."
That's like the division that Koreans make: Hanguk or Waeguk. Korean or Foreigner. But Koreans and Russians aren't the only folks who do this. It's also the case in Switzerland. When I lived there, I loved to watch the evening news, when the Swiss anchor would refer to "das Ausland" -- literally, "the Outland" -- in contradistinction to Switzerland. One of my Swiss friends jokingly once remarked, "It's a big country, the Ausland."

But he was right, as I can attest, for I've been living in the great big Outland ever since I left the Ozarks.

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