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Our Country Friends: A Novel von Gary…
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Our Country Friends: A Novel (2021. Auflage)

von Gary Shteyngart (Autor)

MitgliederRezensionenBeliebtheitDurchschnittliche BewertungDiskussionen
19214113,918 (3.65)9
Titel:Our Country Friends: A Novel
Autoren:Gary Shteyngart (Autor)
Info:Random House (2021), 336 pages
Sammlungen:Deine Bibliothek


Our Country Friends von Gary Shteyngart

Kürzlich hinzugefügt vonannvwuelfing, houghtonjr, alo1224, FlaglerBeachLibrary, LaVidaLlena, emilymf, nbmars, MihaelaZ, McDirk, private Bibliothek
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This clever, often amusing, and touching story is written in the style of a Russian novel with a very decided flavor of “The Big Chill” but set in 2020 during the pandemic.

Alexander Senderovsky (known as Sasha), 48, has invited his best friends to his “House on the Hill” - a main house and five bungalows on a hundred or so acres in upstate New York - to stay during the pandemic. (He also refers to it as “the Sasha Senderovsky Bungalow Colony.”). He, his wife Masha, and their hyper, possibly “on the borderlands of autism” adopted Asian daughter Natasha (“Nat”) who is “eight going on eighty,” welcome a guest for each bungalow: Ed Kim, from a wealthy Korean family and who traveled incessantly because “velocity was his friend”; Vinod Mehta, who had lived with Sasha for a decade beginning in college; Karen Cho, a software designer who was a friend of Sasha’s from high school; Dee Cameron, a former student of Sasha’s in his writing workshop; and “the Actor” - someone slated to star in a miniseries based on one of Sasha's books, and of whom everyone was in awe. Unlike the others, the Actor doesn’t stay the whole time, and that was a good thing. As Nat observed:

“After the Actor had left, everyone behaved differently, more kindly, less self-consciously, as if this was just any other summer but with blue surgical masks and spent bottles of hand sanitizer littering the side of the road.”

This group of mostly second generation immigrants make up, as Sasha calls them in a reference to the fake inclusiveness of the former USSR, “the House of People’s Friendship.”

The author shows the bonds among the people in this group developing and morphing through the lens of a number of issues that affect them, including the prospect of illness and death, success and failure, immigration, racism, the lure of dreams, the families you inherit, the families you make, and the balms of love and sex. They all become closer to one another. As Sasha says to one of them, “How are we not going to be friends? What would be the point of anything?”

Discussion: Shteyngart has clearly shaped his poignant saga to reflect the style of 19th Century Russian writers. As author Francine Prose wrote, those authors made the individual seem universal, with works marked by “the force, the directness, the honesty and accuracy with which they depicted the most essential aspects of human experience.” She added that great Russian writers “persuade us that there is such a thing as human nature, that something about the human heart and soul transcends the surface distinctions of nationality, social class and time.” Shteyngart too has summoned timeless themes to create unforgettable characters, even though they are at simultaneously every man, and every woman.

The writing is quite good, full of trenchant insights uttered by the characters about each other, as in this passage revealing Masha's initial thoughts about Ed:

“Ed reminded her of her husband’s parents. Talking with them was like dealing with a smiling adversary who kept a handful of poisoned toothpicks in his pocket. Every time you let your guard down, there would be a sharp prick at your haunches.”

And there is this humorous observation, showing how Sasha is always thinking like a writer, so that he evaluates what is happening around him as if it were for a script. When he shows Dee to her bungalow and she excuses herself to go to the not-quite-soundproof bathroom:

Student peeing, he thought to himself, not lasciviously, but filing it away for some possible future reference.”

Evaluation: This book is highly recommended for the writing, the insights into human nature and family, or even if one is just looking for exceptional pandemic fiction. ( )
  nbmars | Jan 24, 2022 |
I think I would have enjoyed watching these characters navigate their relationships in any other setting (especially Nat, Nat is the best), but this book misses the atmosphere of the early stages of the pandemic to me. I find it difficult to believe that out of all the people at this house, only one of them seems to have any fear of the virus, particularly as they're just arriving and nobody has been quarantined for any significant length of time. Where is the anxiety about being in a public space with other people at the butcher's or the liquor store when preparing to settle everybody in at the house? The danger of how to get food when they eventually have to resupply - or are they getting deliveries? The desperate, daily viewing of press conferences to find out the latest developments? (There's no television but the main house does have Internet and this was definitely a time when everybody would have been on it.) Where the heck is the prospect of running out of toilet paper? I'm left with the feeling of a "wallpaper" historical mystery or romance that uses the loosest trappings of a time for window dressing, but which in reality could have been set at any time with no impact on the plot and in no way conveys the reality, except that the time was barely two years ago and I remember how not right it is.
  Unreachableshelf | Jan 17, 2022 |
I must admit that for the first few chapters of this novel I did wonder whether I’d be able to bear to spend more than three hundred pages in the company of a group of such apparently neurotic, narcissistic and over-privileged people! For quite some time the only character I felt any investment in was the delightfully funny and intensely serious Nat, whose obsessions with BTS, a Korean boy band, and watching Japanese reality shows on TV, furthered my education in two ways – by introducing me to K-pop as well as opening my eyes to the differences in tone between Japanese and Western reality-TV shows! However, the author’s ability to combine acutely satirical observations about his characters’ behaviour, with gradual revelations which offered insights into the roots of it, enabled me to feel enough empathy to begin to feel more engaged with them. I don’t want to introduce spoilers by going into any detail about their personal histories or the changing nature of the interactions between them, suffice it to say that during the course of the six months they spend together in self-imposed isolation there are numerous examples of long-held secrets being exposed, old resentments surfacing, old scores being settled, new alliances being formed and new sexual relationships being started – and finished!
Although we don’t get to know much in detail about the local community, through his numerous references to a black pickup, driven by a mysterious man who appears to be intent on observing what’s going on in the ‘colony’, to pro-Trump slogans on car bumpers, to some locals sporting white supremacist tattoos and, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, a proliferation of ‘Blue Lives Matter’ banners, the author very powerfully portrayed how the omnipresent fear of the virus wasn’t the only thing which felt threatening to this group of ‘escapees’ from the city.
Explorations of racism, the experiences faced not only immigrants but by anyone who, for whatever reason, feels displaced or different, as well as reflections on marriage, family, parenting, friendship, love, loss, betrayal and the often-insidious nature of social media, are just some of the themes which made this such a thought-provoking and, at times, disturbing story. However, although it was sometimes uncomfortable to be reminded just how scary and unpredictable those early months of the pandemic were, those moments were leavened by the author’s dark humour and his use of satire to poke (mostly!) gentle fun at the self-obsessed, frequently foolish and irrational aspects of the behaviour of some of his characters.
Threaded through the story are numerous allusions to Russian literature, particularly Chekov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ and for anyone familiar with that play, noticing the parallels between its plot and this contemporary drama is unavoidable! In many ways the scene is set from the outset because the novel opens with a ‘Dramatis Personae’ to introduce the eight main characters and ‘Various American Villagers’. Then, rather than Chapter 1, the cast list is followed by ‘Act One’ (just like the play, the novel is divided into four ‘Acts’), immediately suggesting that the story will draw the reader into a theatrically unfolding drama. As Chekov’s play is a firm favourite of mine, I really enjoyed the author’s metaphorical use of it throughout his storytelling and when, towards the end, his characters put on a performance of it and I found that entirely syntonic, I realised just how successfully he had evoked the various parallels!
Another literary allusion I enjoyed was that he named one of his characters Dee Cameron, immediately bringing to mind Boccaccio’s The Decameron, written in the fourteenth century and featuring a group of ten young aristocrats who flee to the countryside from Florence in an attempt to escape the Black Death … although their stay was just ten days rather than the six months endured by the characters in Shteyngart’s story!
Considering the wide range of themes it embraces, the world of social, cultural, racial and political division it depicts, as well as the author’s particular writing-style, I think this novel would be an interesting choice for book clubs … I’m sure it would generate some very interesting, possibly even heated, discussions! ( )
  linda.a. | Jan 13, 2022 |
I very much enjoyed reading Our Country Friends , and once I started to read this book, I could not put it down. One reason that I enjoyed it so much was because there were some really good characters involved in the story.
This story takes place in America in March 2020 which was the start of the first lockdown. A group of friends go to stay on the estate of their host who is a man that they all know of as `Sasha'.
Sasha is in his forties , he has a wife names Masha and a daughter who likes to be known as `Nat'. He owns a big country house along with some adjoining bungalows and land. The friends are invited by him to spend lockdown in the adjoining bungalows.
These friends are a mixture of male and female, all unmarried, and even include a well known actor. Two of the friends have known Sasha since their student days and they know a lot about him , including the fact that he has a drink problem.
So with this group of unmarried men and women, with the alcohol flowing there is very likely to be a few dalliances ( )
  ladydazy | Jan 6, 2022 |
This started out slow for me, and to be honest it stayed slow (Shteyngart is generally pretty frenetic) but this was slow in a Tolstoyian/Chekovian way which I like just fine. I ended up adoring this pandemic Uncle Vanya with loving and explicit nods to The Big Chill and in my opinion clear connections to Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Pedro season of The Real World: San Francisco.

The book centers on a Covid house party of sorts organized by successful, but financially struggling, writer Sasha Senderovsky. (I always assume Shteyngart is writing some aspect of himself in his main characters, but no character in his fiction has seemed so clearly a Shteyngart avatar as Sasha.) Sasha's wife Masha, a psychiatrist, is terrified by and obsessed with Covid. The couple has recently left the city and moved to a rural area near a college town in upstate New York where they have built outbuildings so they can have their city friends surrounding them and avoid rubbing elbows with actual rural people whom they assume are all undereducated, gun-toting, Trump-loving white supremacists. For Covid lockdown they choose to surround themselves with Sasha's three best friends, as well as a writer who studied with Sasha and is currently enjoying some fame for writing a book about being raised poor white trash (see eg Hillbilly Elegy but this author is just a low-key racist, not a right wing propagandist like JD Vance.) Also invited is a famous actor working on a miniseries treatment with Sasha (who I am pretty sure is David Duchovny with a soupcon of James Franco.) Like all of us they assumed lockdown would last for a short time and then realized it was not ending any time soon. There is lots of drama, lots of sex (some gross some not, but all a bit more elemental than I generally enjoy reading about), lots of food and alcohol, lots of weird shifting relationships filled with betrayal and lust and love and reconciliation, lots of analysis of masculinity among ostensibly feminist men, and lots of levels of privilege.

This is a very literary book, in the sense that much of it is essentially a literary salon (until, as they say in The Real World "people stop being polite and start getting real.") This is a very New York book. This is a very Jewish book. This is a very American book. That checks a boatload of boxes for me, but if you have antipathy toward, or simply a lack of interest in, literary Jewish New Yorkers, this is not going to work for you. Also, he really drags the borough in which I reside, so if you love Queens expect to be irked. Extra points for ending in my favorite Filipino restaurant -- he doesn't name it, but I am about 95% sure it is my beloved Jeepny! (Now sadly closed and I sorely miss their banana ribs.) Thanks Gary! A Jeepny memorial is a worthy choice. ( )
1 abstimmen Narshkite | Jan 5, 2022 |
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