Gary Shteyngart's New Dystopic, Asian American(?) Novel

September 24, 2010

Editors' note: If it is possible to build an action-flick franchise around an archaeology professor, then it can't be hard to build one around Tammy Kim. By day she crusades through Brooklyn lawyering for social justice (low-wage workers' rights and health access for the uninsured). By night she writes poetry, essays, and -- you ready? -- comics. Plus she has been known to pull on her boots and walk onto the Yale and Cooper Union campuses to teach. So who's bidding for the rights, y'all?

In a comically bleak imminent future, GlobalTeens messaging substitutes for real human contact, strangers are judged according to digitized fuckability ratings, and books are stinky artifacts made tolerable by Pine-Sol.

Super Sad True Love Story (Random House 2010) follows the doomed romance of Lenny Abramov, a lonely Russian American who reads Tolstoy the old-fashioned way while working a tech job in Post-Human Services, and Eunice Park, a wayward, twenty-something Korean American beauty from a dysfunctional family. These flawed protagonists guide us through a world facing dual collapse: the end of literacy and conversation, and an America under the thumb of a hegemonic China. Lenny and Eunice tell their story through first-person narration as well as emails and instant messages, the “verballing” equivalents of our present-future.

Asian American readers will be surprised by Shteyngart’s spot-on portrayal of Korean American culture. Eunice is a loyal first-born who takes the LSAT, protects her evangelical mother from her father’s abuses, and monitors her sister’s end-times activism. But she also has a rebellious streak that drives her toward ill-conceived romance and political entanglements. Shteyngart attributes his familiarity with this Korean American microcosm to his years at Manhattan’s Asian-dominated Stuyvesant High School, his Korean American fiancée, and his mentor Chang-Rae Lee. Absurdistan fans will not be disappointed: Shteyngart has written a layered, memorable third novel that speaks to the endurance of language, humor, and love in dark times.


Tammy Kim


Tammy lives in Brooklyn, where she writes, works as a social-justice lawyer, and teaches. She grew up in Tacoma, WA and was educated at Yale and NYU.