Unless there is a secret pocket of Choctaw Indians that look at this site, I’m going on under the assumption that very few of us are actual “native Americans.” And if I could go out on even more of a limb, I’m going to guess a big percentage of Jewcy readers can trace their bloodlines back to Eastern European places like (taking a total blind stab here) Russia, Romania, Poland, etc. While none of this is big news, it is part what essentially makes America great: we are a country of immigrants, and we tell thousands of immigrant stories. The recently published Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of American Writing takes on the task of collecting many of those stories, told by a wide array of names, including late literary icons like Vladimir Nabokov and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The anthology also shines a light on the current crop of American writers with foreign birth certificates, like Junot Díaz, Aleksandar Hemon, and my personal favorite, Gary Shteyngart.
Gary Shteyngart’s work makes me think about something a Russian friend said to me a few years ago during his little brother’s Bar Mitzvah. “We say cheers to anything. We say cheers to new babies, and we say cheers to nuclear war.” He raised up a shot glass. “Cheers to nuclear war!” He shouted, prompting the other three Russians at our table to lift up glasses of vodka along with him and respond “to nuclear war!”
I don’t say this to try and make some grandiose proclamation about the fortitude or drinking habits of the Russian people (although that has been well documented in the past), but to point out that nobody does absurd quite like the Russians. In Shteyngart’s two novels, The Russian Debutantes Handbook and Absurdistan, that quality is on display, but unlike many of the writers that came before him, it’s under heavy American influence. Monday evening, Mr. Shteyngart will join other writers from Becoming Americans at the 92Y for “The Immigrant Experience“. I asked him a few questions about “becoming American”, and his work and the ghost of Yiddish writers.
IBS was nuts, clearly. A Jew of his generation, a vegetarian? I’m eating a calf as I’m writing this and I’m appalled. One day my ghost is going to haunt HIS ghost.
I’ve been told this is a satire, in which case it’s pretty funny. Yes, my immigrant humor is most definitely ill-advised.