IFOA 2011: Gary Shteyngart, in Conversation
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IFOA 2011: Gary Shteyngart, in Conversation

Jian Ghomeshi, who's no stranger to difficult interviews, sat down for some mind-wrestling with author Gary Shteyngart on Saturday.

Jian Ghomeshi and Gary Shteyngart, on stage at IFOA on Saturday night.

Gary Shteyngart is the author of Super Sad True Love Story, a novel released in 2010 that sets a love story amidst a near-future America where the dollar has been devalued to near worthlessness, forcing the entire country to use currency pegged to the Chinese yuan, and where jingoism has progressed to such absurd levels that the only two television channels remaining are Fox Liberty-Prime and Fox Liberty-Ultra. On Saturday night, Jian Ghomeshi had the difficult task of getting Shteyngart—whose bona fides as a satirist you can see on full display in the SSTLS book trailer, in which he pretends he can’t read—to be sincere.

The eerie thing about Shteyngart and SSTLS is that he started writing the book before America’s financial cave-in. As a result, he is now susceptible to accusations that he is, maybe, a visionary-level genius.

“What was it like watching the world you were describing come true as you were writing?” Ghomeshi asked Shteyngart, who was seated next to him on a stage in Harbourfront Centre’s Lakeside Terrace.

“It was bad, because I had to rewrite everything,” said Shteyngart. “I come from the Soviet Union, so I know about big empires collapsing.” (Shteyngart moved to the U.S. with his parents at age seven.)

“In fact, every empire I go to collapses. The State Department is trying to send me to China, now, so I can work my magic on the Chinese.”

“You know, you can sense it in the blood—this pessimistic Ashkenazi blood that courses through my veins,” continued Shteyngart. “You know things aren’t going well when there’s hyper-patriotism. The flags get bigger. I was driving past a flag in Ohio—it was bigger than this whole Harbourfront Centre. Over a Subaru car dealership, mind you.”

Ghomeshi pointed out that SSTLS has a subplot in which a group of “low net-worth individuals” occupy Central Park, in Manhattan, to protest America’s increasingly dire economic situation. It isn’t an exact foretelling of Occupy Wall Street and all its satellite protests around the world, but it’s pretty close.

“I’m like the Nostradamus of three months from now,” said Shteyngart, a little sarcastically.

“How do we know what to believe, coming out of you?” asked Ghomeshi at one point.

“I’ll give you my shrink’s number,” said Shteyngart. “We can have a conference call.”

Opening Weekend at the International Festival of Authors: