Moving beyond the Russian-American ghetto: The fiction of Keith Gessen and Michael Idov

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In the wake of Gary Shteyngart's novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), Russian-American immigrant fiction written in English has enjoyed an unprecedented boom in recent years. At the same time, a certain weariness seems to have settled in among some of the providers of these narratives. How can an immigrant author avoid being confined to an ethnic niche? This article explores this question by analyzing the work of two Russian-American authors, Keith Gessen (b. 1975 in Moscow) and Michael Idov (b. 1976 in Riga), who have been bucking the trend by refusing to openly play the "Russian card," the "Jewish card," or the "immigrant card" in their fictional work. As I will argue, their debut novels All the Sad Young Literary Men (2008) and Ground Up (2009) were written in dialogue with and at the same time as an implied repudiation of the currently fashionable literature capitalizing on an author's ethnic identity. As "global Russians" and "cosmopolitan Americans," Gessen and Idov tap into a reservoir of Russian intellectuality that differs from the usual focus on Russian-Jewish clichés and the stereotypical narrative of immigrant hardship. In doing so, they may be charting a possible future for Russian-American literature that is moving beyond the ethnic ghetto.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-296
Number of pages16
JournalRussian Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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