Gary Shteyngart Q&A: “I’m the guy listening to rap in his Volvo… pathetic”

The Russian-American author on Lenin, BoJack Horseman and dreams of herding sheep.

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Gary Shteyngart was born in Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad), Russia, in 1972. He moved to New York City when he was seven years old. He has written novels including “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook”, “Absurdistan” and “Super Sad True Love Story”. His memoir, “Little Failure”, about adapting to life in the USA, was published in 2014.

What’s your earliest memory?

Fondling a giant statue of Lenin in Leningrad. I sure loved that big baldie. I’d hug him every morning after my first asthma attack.

Who are your heroes?

In childhood, my hero was Lenin. In adulthood, my hero is the children’s author Mo Willems. If only Lenin had Elephant and Piggie, Soviet-style socialism could have worked out.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

George Packer’s The Unwinding: an Inner History of the New America. I love books about how everything is going to hell that then proceed to explain, patiently, how we got there.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

I like that new Congress candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s from the Bronx! I love the Bronx.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

What is Mastermind?

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Any time period before 2016 would be grand… 2006 was a pretty neat year. My subprime mortgage was doing really great in 2006.

What TV show could you not live without?

BoJack Horseman. I mean, come on, an animated show about an alcoholic horse? What part of that doesn’t work for you?

Who would paint your portrait?

Banksy. Or maybe Damien Hirst could pickle me in formaldehyde after I die and place me in a glass vitrine. Or before I die.

What’s your theme tune?

“Straight Outta Compton”. Yeah, I’m that guy who drives around in a Volvo listening to late Eighties gangsta rap at full blast. Pathetic.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Philip Roth told me, “Don’t eat butter.” I haven’t eaten any since and my cholesterol is down to the low 300s. I’m gonna live forever!

What’s currently bugging you?

Nazis running the world.

What single thing would make your life better?

Lack of Nazis running the world.

When were you happiest?

Before the Nazis.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would have loved to be a shepherd. I live near a sheep farm and wake up to the sound of those sweet, sweet animals bleating. Becoming a writer was the cool thing to do at my fancy, Marxist literary college in Ohio. I wish I had gone to agricultural school instead.

Are we all doomed?

Oh, hell, yes! 

Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel “Lake Success” is out now, published by Hamish Hamilton

This article appears in the 05 September 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The hard man of the Left