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Reading in Lower East Sideistan


Gary Shteyngart
by Pat Arnow

Not every town could pull together a program with local authors who write about the immigrant experience. In New York it's easy. So easy, the New York Book Club, which meets at the Tenement Museum visitors center on Orchard St., lined up a whole series on the subject.

On Wednesday evening novelists Gary Shteyngart and Sigrid Nunez read from their books and answered questions in the visitors' center and shop with the standing-room-only crowd piled in around the counters and shelves.

It would be a mistake to assume that the experience of children of immigrants would be similar. Shteyngart's Russian parents, who emigrated to the U.S. when their son was seven, proudly continued to speak Russian in the home. Nunez has one of those wonderfully complex families. She grew up on Staten Island, is the child of a German mother and a Chinese father who came from Panama. As a child, Nunez learned nothing of her parents' language.

The two authors did have one thing in common. They always felt like outsiders. Like many writers, whether American born or immigrant, they never felt that they could be at home in any country. Shteyngart says he never has felt American. But he does have a sense of belonging in one place. "I feel New Yorkian," he says.

Shteyngart's latest novel, “Absurdistan,” is a dark satire about an obese Russian man stuck in a tiny, oil-rich nation and longing only to get back to the U.S. see my Loho blog review. I'm far from the only one who admired this book. The Times named it one of the 10 best books of 2006.

Sigrid Nunez has written several novels including “The Last of Her Kind” and “A Feather on the Breath of God.”

For more information on Tenement Museum programs, call 212-431-0233 or visit the Museum's website.

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