Author Archives:

“Blini-Wrapped Bildungsroman”

My review of Gary Shteyngart’s new novel is up. You can find it here. I had some fun with this one, especially trying to describe the scary but funny dystopia that he has created:

But who would want to spend eternity in this illiterate future where all that is most shallow has prevailed? Everyone is a slave to their äppäräts, a handheld device that makes the iPhone look as ancient as one of those brick-sized car phones Michael Douglas used in “Wall Street.” People are on them constantly, combing through intimate details about the strangers around them — cholesterol levels and favorite sexual positions — and then rating and ranking each other. “Credit polls” on every corner flash the credit scores of those walking by. Completely transparent jeans, called “onionskins,” are all the rage. In this future, adults speak in the abbreviated patois of 12-year-old teenage texters. In one of Lenny’s first conversations with the woman who will trigger this “super sad love story,” she tells him, “TIMATOV. ROFLAARP. PRGV. Totally PRGV.” To which Lenny, as bewildered as we are, answers, “IMF. PLO. ESL.” Oh, and there are no books. When Lenny opens up a volume of Chekhov on a flight, he is reprimanded by his neighbor, who says the book smells “like wet socks.” In his own apartment, he guards his contraband paperbacks as if they are the last of some endangered species of butterflies.

Super Sad True Love Story

I just turned in a book review of Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, which will appear in the Forward next week. I’ll let my review speak for itself, but I couldn’t help but post the trailer for “Super Sad True Love Story,” which appeared on the internet this week. Like the book, and like everything Shteyngart writes, it’s very, very funny. The world of the literati is filled with so much over-inflated self-importance, it’s always refreshing to see someone who actually seems to be having fun, who has a sense of humor. Whatever you think of his writing style, Shteyngart is not a pretentious man, which is something I wish I could say for more authors. Then again, the guy was so kind as to blurb my book, so I probably shouldn’t be trusted to have an opinion about him…

Last Night in the Ghetto

I spent last evening in Boro Park at a giant rally for Sholom Rubashkin. It always feels like stepping into another century in that part of Brooklyn but last night with the thousands of black hats thronging around me in a hot wedding hall and the sound of mournful singing every few minutes, it was stifling. The speeches were all in Yiddish and every single one ended with a bout of ecstatic crying.

Outside in the street, a few thousands more milled around and everyone seemed to want the chance to pour their emotions out to a journalist – or get their name in the paper.

By far the funniest comment was from a tall, red-bearded Chasid named Mordy who nearly knocked me over with his passion. “This is just like Dreyfus!” he yelled in his Yiddish accent. “J’accuse!”

The photographer with me was a woman and she wasn’t allowed to enter the hall or, really, stand anywhere near the building. All the women were relegated across the street and then, when the crowd of men grew, pushed even further to the next block. When she tried to venture over toward the men to get a better shot, someone pointed a finger at her.

“Watch your modesty,” he told her. “You know it’s not Crown Heights here!”

Times Op-Ed!

It’s been a very exciting day for me with my op-ed on the Leningrad hijacking appearing in the New York Times this morning. If you’re interested and get a chance, take a look at it in the paper itself. They’ve run it very big with evocative art. It’s one of those moments when you realize what gets lost when papers dissapear. Online it’s just one in a list of articles. In the paper, it’s been curated. Anyway, amazing news for me no matter where you read it.

Soviet Jewelry

My book tells a story that is, of course, a fairly serious one — persecution, redemption and such. But that’s not to say there’s no comedy! When have Jews even done anything without also laughing at themselves? When I mention the book to people of a certain generation, this is often the first association that comes to mind…the late, great Gilda Radner:

Forty Years Ago Today

It’s a fitting day to start this blog. On June 15, 1970, a group of Soviet Jews tried to hijack a plane in Leningrad – and failed. But their attempt and the Soviet overreaction to it ignited the movement that is the subject of my book. Seems like as good an excuse as any to write a first post.

I’m not sure yet exactly what this blog will end up looking like. I guess like most blogs it will have to evolve over time. But I know now that at the very least I want it to be a place for me to highlight and discuss some of my writing – both of the topical, weekly variety, and from the big history book of mine that will be out in September. I also think it will be nice to have a place to describe what it feels like to finally enter the publication phase of what has been a long, long process. I got the contract to write the book back in 2004. The prospect of finally seeing it out in the world is – to say the least – both exhilarating and terrifying.

Please feel free to comment or send me emails. I’ll try to update fairly often.