Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 855
Misha Vainberg is the narrator of Absurdistan, and he describes himself in a variety of ways. Misha identifies himself as a Secular Jew and will often point to his nose when people ask him about his ethnicity. Physically, he is obese and often refers to his breasts and to his penis, which was hideously mangled when he was circumcised at the age of eighteen. Misha is born and raised in Russia but attended a university in America and now wishes to be a New Yorker. Misha is the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, the gangster Boris Vainberg. Misha also describes himself as a patron of multiculturalism, as a melancholic, and as a philanthropist. As a philanthropist, he has had his assistants start an organization called “Misha’s Children.” Finally, Misha enjoys gangster rapping with his friends.
Throughout Absurdistan, Misha is passive; he generally agrees to every proposal offered him. For example, Misha agrees to make peace with his father’s murderer; he agrees to sleep with his father’s mourning wife; and he agrees to pay any amount of money to robbers, blackmailers, and scam artists he meets in Absurdistan. Misha appears to be helpless and devoid of intelligence, but at times he is also capable of provocative insights about his situation.
By the end of Absurdistan, Misha becomes more responsible and more assertive. He accepts the position of Minister of Multiculturalism while in Absurdistan. He also takes action to leave the Nanabragovs after he realizes they have duped him. Finally, Misha decides to leave Nana and reaffirms his commitment to Rouenna. When the novel ends, Misha is determined to return to New York however he can, regardless of what this will require.
Rouenna is Misha’s Latina girlfriend from the South Bronx. When they first meet, Rouenna is working as a barmaid at a “titty bar.” Soon Misha begins to finance her education. After Misha is refused reentry to America, Rouenna leaves Misha for his college rival, Jerry Shteynfarb, though she hopes Misha will continue to pay for her education. Shteynfarb encourages Rouenna to become a writer. Before long, Rouenna is pregnant and Stheynfarb has left her to take a new job.
Alyosha-Bob is one of Misha’s closest friends. They first met while at the university. Although Jerry Shteynfarb had been trying to convince Alyosha-Bob that Russia is a deeply spiritual country, Misha informs him that many Russians like nice things like speakers. Their friendship grows as they party and rap together. Alyosha-Bob often takes care of Misha, acting like a protective personal assistant. Alyosha-Bob goes with Misha to Absurdistan but leaves Misha there. After Alyosha-Bob leaves, Misha is forced to begin making his own decisions.
While in Absurdistan, Misha starts a relationship with Nana Nanabragov, a New York University senior who is missing courses now that she is stuck in Absurdistan. Nana’s father is an influential man in Absurdistan, and at first he welcomes Misha into the family. However, Misha learns that Nanabragov is not what he seems. The Absurdi is actually using Misha in the hopes of getting more attention from the international media. It turns out that the unrest in Absurdistan is all a ruse to attract American attention and reinvestment. Nanabragov also wants Nana to remain near him rather than return to New York. When Misha attempts to flee Absurdistan with Nana, he learns that Nanabragov has made plans to have him killed.
Gary Shteyngart satirizes himself in Absurdistan as Jerry Shteynfarb. Both were born in Russia before their families immigrated to New York. Both became writers, and Shteyngart’s first book, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, is here entitled The Russian Arriviste’s Hand Job. Shteynfarb is a poser who appears to be exploiting his immigrant past. Throughout the novel, Shteynfarb is portrayed negatively. He impregnates Rouenna and then abandons her to take on a new job.
Boris Vainberg is Misha’s father. He is the 1,238th richest man in Russia, and he made his fortune illegally. Although he agrees to send Misha to New York, he insists that his son be circumcised there. Misha is unable to return to New York after Boris kills Roger Daltrey, a businessman from Oklahoma. By the end of the novel, it is suggested that Boris killed Daltrey so Misha would be forced to stay in Russia, near his father. By the end of the novel, Misha appears to have adopted his father’s relentless determination to get what he wants.
Dr. Levine is Misha’s psychiatrist. Misha seems to enjoy being a melancholic, and he uses his psychiatrist as an enabler. When Misha feels depressed, he phones Levine to reassure him about his problems. Levine also prescribes Ativan, which Misha takes with liquor. However, when Misha is stuck in Absurdistan, he is no longer able to consult his psychiatrist by mobile phone and is forced to start dealing with his problems. By the end of the novel, the two have split, and it seems that Misha may have overcome his need for his psychiatrist.
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