Genre: Futuristic Sci-Fi, Romance, Dystopia

Notes: If you’re tired of hearing people say technology makes humans dumber, don’t read this book.  However, if you do believe technology takes away a lot of basic human interactions and the ability to communicate, this book delves deeper into a world where technology rules.

Review: The first thing that resonates with this book are the relationships.  They seem real.  And depressing.  If you like reading romance novels about people who complete each other and bring out the best, reading Shteyngart’s novel will make you sad.  Some couples are together simply because it is slightly less awful than being alone.  And it’s not only the romantic relationships they seem real, but the relationships between family members and friends resonate as well.

The book takes our reliance on gadgets and the internet to the extreme.  (well, honestly, maybe not that extreme)  US Citizens are constantly wired and linked to the internet.  Their apparats (the ipod like things around their necks) can do everything from shopping, rankings (are you the hottest person in the room?  Find out!), to news stories.   People even have a “fuckability” rating out of 800 as well as a Sustainability rating (rated in the Chinese Yen)

Reading this reminded me of going out to a bar and seeing everyone buried into their smart phones, not even paying attention to what’s going on around them.  The need to stay connected but living in a world of increasing isolation permeates this book.

The story revolves around two characters, Eunice Park and Lenny Abramov.  Abramov (39) and Eunice (23 or 24), make up an unlikely couple with all sort of cringe-worthy problems.  Abramov is a pushover and pathetic to the nth degree while Eunice has some weird, twisted idea of what love means.  Her father abused her as a child and, consequently, Eunice has almost non-existent self-esteem.  Eunice learns to “love” (I put love in quotations because their love is absolutely awful) Lenny and moves in with him to his apartment in New York.  This is really the part of the book I had an issue with.  I hated both of the main characters.  While I do think Shteyngart drew them true to life and full of flaws, I wanted to shake both of them.  I didn’t believe their relationship, and I couldn’t feel their love.  I felt Lenny’s slavish devotion to Eunice and I felt her ridiculously warped ideas of what made a man a good match for her.  But I didn’t feel their love for each other.

This book takes place in the not-too-distant future in New York (mostly).  The American dollar has fallen in value and the Chinese act as the primary creditors for the US.  Even with their help, most Americans live in crushing debt and the country lies on a precipice.  The Chinese creditors are threatening to withdraw their funds and give up on America – something the country will not survive.  It’s like Shteyngart takes all of the things Americans worry about (technology ruining our youth!  National debt! Isolation! Personal debt!  Mortality!) and crammed it all into one book screaming “Look, if you don’t change anything, this is what’s going to happen.”

Bottom Line: It’s an entertaining read and really does make you think about how you live your life.  But, honestly, I felt like he was bashing me over the head with his message.  Technology is happening whether you like it or not.  Don’t bury your head in the sand and pine for the good ol’ days pre-internet.