Misha Vainberg, like a twisted 21st-century Whitman, contains multitudes. Son of the 1238th richest man in Russia. Graduate of Accidental College in the American Midwest, with a degree in multicultural studies. Victim of a botched circumcision at the hands of Hasidim in New York. A 325-pound behemoth with a fondness for grilled sturgeon and fried chicken wings. Possessor of a 'toxic hump' that floods his body alternately with sadness and rage. A 'holy fool', 'an innocent surrounded by schemers', a 'modest person bent on privacy and lonely sadness', a 'giant florid hymie with big, squishy hands and a rather mean-looking overbite', a 'sophisticate and a melancholic'. He pops Ativan by the handful and swills Johnny Walker Black; an aficionado of hip-hop, he rolls with a manservant called Timofey in a Land Rover driven by a Chechen. Dressed in a vintage Puma tracksuit he resembles 'the infamous North Korean playboy Kim Jong Il'; swaddled in a Hyatt Hotel robe he feels 'like the Reichstag must have felt when it was being draped by Christo'. Squalid, horrifying and attractive, Misha is meant to embody the excesses and contradictions of our millennial stew of sexual confusion, ethnic tension, appalling consumerism and multicultural angst. You need a poster-sized Venn diagram to keep track of his entanglements, from New York to St Petersburg to the fictional former Soviet republic that gives the novel its name.
LRB 2 August 2007 | PDF Download