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Our Country Friends

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Eight friends, one country house, four romances, and six months in isolation -- a powerful, emotionally rich novel about love, friendship, and betrayal, a book that reads like a great Russian novel, or Chekhov on the Hudson, by a novelist The New York Times calls "one of his generation's most original and exhilarating writers". It's March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A Eight friends, one country house, four romances, and six months in isolation -- a powerful, emotionally rich novel about love, friendship, and betrayal, a book that reads like a great Russian novel, or Chekhov on the Hudson, by a novelist The New York Times calls "one of his generation's most original and exhilarating writers". It's March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaulate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters include: a Russian-born novelist; his Russian-born psychiatrist wife; their precocious child obsessed with K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a wildly successful Korean American app developer; a global dandy with three passports; a young flame-thrower of an essayist, originally from the Carolinas; and a movie star, The Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family. In a remarkable literary feat, Gary Shteyngart has documented through fiction the emotional toll of our recent times: a story of love and friendship that reads like a great Russian novel set in upstate New York. Both elegiac and very, very funny, Our Country Friends is the most ambitious book yet by the author of the beloved bestseller, Super Sad True Love Story.


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Eight friends, one country house, four romances, and six months in isolation -- a powerful, emotionally rich novel about love, friendship, and betrayal, a book that reads like a great Russian novel, or Chekhov on the Hudson, by a novelist The New York Times calls "one of his generation's most original and exhilarating writers". It's March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A Eight friends, one country house, four romances, and six months in isolation -- a powerful, emotionally rich novel about love, friendship, and betrayal, a book that reads like a great Russian novel, or Chekhov on the Hudson, by a novelist The New York Times calls "one of his generation's most original and exhilarating writers". It's March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaulate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters include: a Russian-born novelist; his Russian-born psychiatrist wife; their precocious child obsessed with K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a wildly successful Korean American app developer; a global dandy with three passports; a young flame-thrower of an essayist, originally from the Carolinas; and a movie star, The Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family. In a remarkable literary feat, Gary Shteyngart has documented through fiction the emotional toll of our recent times: a story of love and friendship that reads like a great Russian novel set in upstate New York. Both elegiac and very, very funny, Our Country Friends is the most ambitious book yet by the author of the beloved bestseller, Super Sad True Love Story.

30 review for Our Country Friends

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    2.5 stars: Reading expectations are killing me this year! My previous experience with Gary Shteyngart was reading his fun novel, “Super Sad True Love Story”. His newly released “Our Country Friends” pales in comparison, at least to me. Plus, the press for this one! Of course, I expected to be blown away. Shteynhgart was on point with prose. He had some fun reality thrown into this pandemic story. He has the epidemiological nazi expecting everyone to maintain a healthy 6 feet distance from each ot 2.5 stars: Reading expectations are killing me this year! My previous experience with Gary Shteyngart was reading his fun novel, “Super Sad True Love Story”. His newly released “Our Country Friends” pales in comparison, at least to me. Plus, the press for this one! Of course, I expected to be blown away. Shteynhgart was on point with prose. He had some fun reality thrown into this pandemic story. He has the epidemiological nazi expecting everyone to maintain a healthy 6 feet distance from each other. He includes silly characters of self-absorbed artists. To add some further zest, the main character has an adopted Asian daughter who seems to be “on the spectrum” with special needs. Sasha Senderovsky has property(colony) in upstate New York with small cottages surrounding the big house. He has invited four close friends and one “actor” with whom he is working with on a film. Sash’s wife, Masha is the enforcer of social distancing and virus protocol. Sasha’s daughter, Natasha aka Nat, is their adopted Korean daughter who is a delight in the story. Her carefree antics and sweet observations make the story. Oh, and there is Steve the hedgehog. I just couldn’t get into this story. The character of the actor was a bit too much. Plus, everything involving the actor was silly and a bit annoying to me. Sasha’s neurosis of making his “colony” perfect became tedious. I’m an outlier. I just didn’t think it was one of his best works, unlike most.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    I smile whenever I pick up a new book from Gary Shteyngart, because I know there's a treat in store. And with Our Country Friends, he has more than delivered. While his Lake Success was a truly original take on the tRump administration, here he approaches the year 2020 with Chekhovian flair. Alexander (Sasha) Senderovsky invites a curated selection of friends to his upstate compound that consists of five bungalows and a main house, a group comprised mostly of second generation immigrants -- from I smile whenever I pick up a new book from Gary Shteyngart, because I know there's a treat in store. And with Our Country Friends, he has more than delivered. While his Lake Success was a truly original take on the tRump administration, here he approaches the year 2020 with Chekhovian flair. Alexander (Sasha) Senderovsky invites a curated selection of friends to his upstate compound that consists of five bungalows and a main house, a group comprised mostly of second generation immigrants -- from Korea, India and, naturally being Shteyngart, Russia. The one exception is the catalyst for disaster, an AList actor, expected to star in a miniseries based on one of Sasha's books. What struck me were the similarities between author and character, rendering this almost a work of metafiction, sharing his innermost emotions about the pandemic, the death of George Floyd, the experiences of teaching writing at a prestigious college. The writing is superb, the situations, truly heartfelt. The resolutions unexpected and gut wrenching. Kudos. Also, as I've been present at several events where he has appeared, I am hoping that when this book is published in November, he will be able to go on the road again. I'd love to see him in person discussing this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Cute start, with the dramatis personae led by Russian names, last characters being VARIOUS AMERICAN VILLAGERS. We're in the Hudson Valley, escaping NYC at the advent of Covid. Sasha Senderovsky, writer whose better days are behind him, has purchased a country dacha (so to speak) that includes bungalows, little cabins that could. Could house dramatis personae, that is -- two Korean-Americans, one Indian American, and a tough little Southern gal. Oh. And a mysterious actor somehow involved in negoti Cute start, with the dramatis personae led by Russian names, last characters being VARIOUS AMERICAN VILLAGERS. We're in the Hudson Valley, escaping NYC at the advent of Covid. Sasha Senderovsky, writer whose better days are behind him, has purchased a country dacha (so to speak) that includes bungalows, little cabins that could. Could house dramatis personae, that is -- two Korean-Americans, one Indian American, and a tough little Southern gal. Oh. And a mysterious actor somehow involved in negotiations around Sasha's TV screenplay. Oddly, it works in a light entertainment kind of way. You get caught up in the personalities, the pastoral quaintness, the how-will-this-one-match-up-with-that-one of it all. Sasha and his wife Masha's kid, Natasha (I kid you not), is both adopted and eccentric -- the source of humor at times and of more common sense than the adults provide at other times. There are references to Chekhov, specifically Uncle Vanya, but Chekhov this ain't. This is amusing fare with typical American (despite the Korean/Indian/Russian angles) obsessions -- sex, booze, and money. It is also self-consciously designed to be the first important pandemic novel. This means people wear masks, wash down every object touched (remember?), act hyper about contact. As if. Contact will have its way and Covid fatigue, which could bring down the Roman Empire, will have its way as well. To varying degrees, guards are let down. Alas, around 70 pp. before the book's end, everything stalls. It is as if Shteyngart has used up all his chits early. It gets claustrophobic, repetitive, and at times boring. It also, bizarrely, indulges in way too much flashback at the wrong time -- almost as if the background info, usually tolerated up front in a book, got lost and started to explain itself at the end. In summary, the "Wonder what will happen next?" element winds up on life support. I regret to say it doesn't quite make it to the finish line. This baby limps home. This promise ultimately reneges. Not bad, as contemporary novels go, but not a must-read by any means. Nor does it say anything meaningful about Covid. The pandemic is just "out there," kind of like it is for us outside our windows right now -- one big unentertaining presence outstaying its welcome.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for my ARC in exchange for my honest review. This book will be published November 2, 2021. I was SO EXCITED to read this book, especially after reading a 5 star review from an author I follow. The description sounded so good… I was tempted to quit about 25% in but felt obligated to finish so I could review it properly. I loved the premise but I was thoroughly bored. I didn’t care about any of the characters. Although some of the sentences were quite eloquen Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for my ARC in exchange for my honest review. This book will be published November 2, 2021. I was SO EXCITED to read this book, especially after reading a 5 star review from an author I follow. The description sounded so good… I was tempted to quit about 25% in but felt obligated to finish so I could review it properly. I loved the premise but I was thoroughly bored. I didn’t care about any of the characters. Although some of the sentences were quite eloquent, I really can’t stand the super long, run-on sentences that last a whole paragraph. This was my first book by this author and despite his numerous awards, it will probably be my last. Book would be best for existing fans of this author.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    “My dear ones, welcome to the House of People’s Friendship”…. enter at your own risk! “All of us are useful and expendable in turn”… When expectations are low going into a book one has purchased - but then didn’t read it right away due to a low review from a wonderful respective friend ( ha, ha, Barbara)….then I figure everything ‘up’ is gravy. (laughing to myself - I don’t even like gravy)…but you get the point. I laughed - a handful of times - so that’s got to be worth something - doesn’t it?/! “My dear ones, welcome to the House of People’s Friendship”…. enter at your own risk! “All of us are useful and expendable in turn”… When expectations are low going into a book one has purchased - but then didn’t read it right away due to a low review from a wonderful respective friend ( ha, ha, Barbara)….then I figure everything ‘up’ is gravy. (laughing to myself - I don’t even like gravy)…but you get the point. I laughed - a handful of times - so that’s got to be worth something - doesn’t it?/! Did I think it was always a nice book….speak anything remarkably political correct half the time—no — And…. I was aware that this book could be a COVID-TRIGGER-HORROR to some readers—boring to others…and even make a few of us readers (as myself), feel ashamed for the numerous holes in my literary repertoire. Not being a student of Anton Chekhov’s — the many references reminded me (once again), how ‘un-smart’ I am. (Yet, I understood this book -with all its characters was being modeled after and also a tribute to Chekhov’s plays)…. But… if I googled him and read more about his brilliant accomplishments and contributions to society - (a playwright, short story writer, a philosopher, an artist….. who “captured life in Russia of his time by using a deceptively simple technique devoid of obtrusive literary devices”….and was considered one of the greatest writers in the world…does that count for something? —-a little more smart? I’m now considering adding ‘Uncle Vanya’ and ‘Cherry Orchard’ to my ‘classic-to-read’ list….[the insurmountable book-benefit-gifts keep on giving]. So…with my low expectations for “Our Country Friends”….I was pleasantly surprised- and not ashamed to say I liked it. I’ll never forget the first time I read Gary Shteyngart “Absurdistan”. I was in stitches. So — I figured there would be inappropriate (rather debatable), humor ….and there was > much to throw darts at > but I liked it anyway. A very character driven novel - (Sasha, Marsha, Karen, Ed, Dee, Nat, The Actor)…..I enjoyed the collective-group: Academics, professionals, families and friends, (and acquaintances), and the precocious-probably on the spectrum-adorable child. I found the ‘get-away’ covid-bubble compound - distant from Manhattan- easy to visualize. …. The ‘group’ of friends ….(as we could imagine, and presume), shared meals, walks, badminton, drinking, smoking, conversations, (often heated, hilarious, incongruous, tackless & tasteless) — each having their own bungalow for sleeping (ha, but like musical chairs—there were some musical bed): cough cough > no spoilers. A few fun-excerpts ….. “You should’ve seen these two when I met them, Karen was saying apropos of Senderovsky and Vinod. The ‘things’ they wore. I would lecture them all the time. When you guys dress the way you want to dress and go to parties, people just think you’re weird. When you dress like I tell you to dress, people think you’re charming. Yeah, I know it’s a freaking shallow town!” “How did they dress? Dee asked, between mouthfuls of pasta she thought delicious. Give us some highlights”. “Yeah, how do they dress? Nat sang out”. “Well, your ‘daddy’ here wire puka shells”. “Everyone laughed, including Nat, who did not know what puka shells were. Marsha checked this off as appropriate social behavior—the need to fit in”. “I can picture at all too well, the Actor said”. “Before I am buried I want my body to be smothered in olive oil and salt, he said”. “Daddy’s not going to die for a long time, Marsha told Nat. He was just being silly”. “I might die before him! Nat sang out”. “Now why would you say that?” “Yeah, why? Karen said. “Because of climate change”. “Ed, pleased by his food’s reception, I just finished an extra sidebar of artisanal gin and felt his tongue loosening accordingly. I call Nat’s generation Generation L, he pronounced. As in last”. “Ed, what the hell is wrong with you? Karen said”. “All I am saying is that it’s irresponsible to bring a new person into this world, Ed said”. “Which they didn’t! Karen said. No one here brought anyone into this world”. “I’m still totally fertile, Dee said as a sidebar, but I am with Ed. No more children”. “Oh, the Actor thought”. “Yeah, I’m adopted, Nat declared to Ed”. “The Actor perked up? sensing his rival what is about to be taken to task. A silence over took them, filled by the mad chirping birds sensing the first tranche of wind descending down the Berkshire. Senderovsky realized that he had not put any music on the handsome red radio”. “Senderovsky watched his wife in the sundress returned to her patients and her child’s lesson plans and thought of the raft of mystery that floats between two partners, even contented ones, as they turn in for the night. He wished he could fall in love with someone as his wife evidently had done. He has chased after beauty for such a long part of his life, until he had caught up with it and found it, like everything else, worthy of no more than a chapter or two of heightened prose”. “Now all that mattered was the property and it’s salvation. The dewy land and the rustle of dying trees and companionship of friends disembarking at the station and the sound of grilled meat being turned over, once, twice—all of it must remain his until the day he coughed his last”. Much more pleasure to be read ….unless nothing about the reflection of the first lockdown in March of 2020 —appeals to you — with characters ‘not’ like many of us — Last…NOT to forget this novel is Tragicomedy….> relevant to our times (too soon for many)…. but with the serious aspects - it allowed me to think a little deeper about what we’ve been through - as well as specific issues to contemplate. 4.5 stars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ari Levine

    Such a tedious slog: glib, smug, and self-indulgent. This has been overhyped as the first great (or maybe just the first) pandemic novel, but I think it's just too soon, especially for what's purported to be a comic and satirical pandemic novel. Comedy equals tragedy plus time, and maybe I'm just not ready yet to laugh yet about the seriously traumatic shit we've all experienced here in America since March 2020: nearly one million entirely preventable deaths, horrific levels of open white suprem Such a tedious slog: glib, smug, and self-indulgent. This has been overhyped as the first great (or maybe just the first) pandemic novel, but I think it's just too soon, especially for what's purported to be a comic and satirical pandemic novel. Comedy equals tragedy plus time, and maybe I'm just not ready yet to laugh yet about the seriously traumatic shit we've all experienced here in America since March 2020: nearly one million entirely preventable deaths, horrific levels of open white supremacism and unchecked police brutality, Facebook-induced amplification of anti-vaccine and anti-masking madness, a knife-edge election that barely staved off the certain collapse of democracy, followed by a nearly successful right-wing coup. Okay, maybe I'm too fucking angry to laugh right now. I admit that I was (sort of) intrigued by the jacket-copy conceit of a contemporary Chekhov play about friends gathering on a country estate during the plague year to vent their middle-aged ennui, disappointment, and thwarted lust. Beyond the shallow nods to the great 19th-century Russian novels, Our Country Friends is also an all-too-obvious appropriation of the basic conceit of The Decameron, only without the master storytelling. (Just imagine how super-clever Shteyngart must have been to name a character "Dee Cameron"? I kid, I kid...) And maybe a more talented and sharper satirist could have pulled all of this off, speaking to the berserk insanity of the cultural and political moment of spring and summer and fall 2020, but Shteyngart just isn't the guy. Except as an embodiment of everything that was (and remains) wrong about the zeitgeist. Reading this felt like being stuck in lockdown for month after month in a bourgeois-bohemian Hudson Valley bungalow with a minimally self-aware aging hipster acquaintance of an acquaintance who's an overeducated and overpaid Brooklyn culture industry worker in his late 40s, who has an overinflated sense of literary prowess and personal entitlement all out of proportion to actual life achievements, who kvetches about first world problems like bad Wi-Fi while actual horrors and tragedies are unfolding just offscreen, who is completely convinced (despite all evidence to the contrary) that he's witty and amusing, who assumes that ethnic stereotypes can substitute for actual characterization, who whines endlessly about having sold out while enjoying all of the comfortable trappings of wealth, who endlessly recycles the same stale shtick and bad jokes and lame Twitter memes, who is too stuck inside the suffocating self-absorption of narcissism and privilege to be remotely self-aware about it, let alone satirize it. I skimmed the final 100 pages, but I should have pulled the plug on this much, much earlier.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Angie Kim

    You know those books that stay with you, with characters who worm their way into your head and heart and continue to haunt you long after you’ve finished the last page? OUR COUNTRY FRIENDS is that book for me. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it the first time, and I’ve been finding myself missing it, like an old friend. This morning, as I started writing this review, I picked it up to re-read a few random pages in the middle, and within a minute, I was laughing and trying not to cry at th You know those books that stay with you, with characters who worm their way into your head and heart and continue to haunt you long after you’ve finished the last page? OUR COUNTRY FRIENDS is that book for me. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it the first time, and I’ve been finding myself missing it, like an old friend. This morning, as I started writing this review, I picked it up to re-read a few random pages in the middle, and within a minute, I was laughing and trying not to cry at the same time (I have three teenage sons who make merciless fun of me). I ended up re-reading the rest of the book again, and now, I’m in that rare state you get in when you finish an amazing book: my heart full, utterly satisfied and grateful to the author for creating this world and allowing me in for a time, but also a little sad, filled with regret at having to leave it. I love Gary Shteyngart and his books (especially Super Sad True Love Story) but this is by far my favorite novel of his. It’s hilarious, as all his books are, but the humor is laced with generosity, poignancy, and grace. It’s about a quirky group of people who quarantine together in a country house, so in one sense, it’s a pandemic-quarantine book, but it’s not really about that. It’s about so many things—sex, infatuation, food, racism, immigration, adoption, stalking, Russian writers, K-pop, Japanese reality TV shows, writing—but at heart, it’s about those friendships that come along once in a lifetime, the friends who become closer than family. It’s about how we create, sever, and mend those lifelong bonds, how we wound and heal those we love most. I do wonder if a tiny part of why I love this book so much is its timeliness. It showed up for me exactly when I needed it. At the beginning of the quarantine, I read Severance (another funny but deeply touching novel about, but also not at all about, a global pandemic) over and over again; it was the only novel I could read. Our Country Friends feels like the perfect bookend, as I find myself doing the same thing with it as I’m cautiously emerging from the quarantine. In short, I LOVED this novel. It’s extraordinary. You need to read it! It comes out in November, so request the ARC, preorder, etc., and read it as soon as you can. (And let me know what you think!)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A disappointing, self-indulgent novel that is too long, goes nowhere and leaves plot lines unfinished. The characters are unlikeable, insecure, and unreasonably juvenile in their thoughts and interactions. I found myself putting this book down, and then dreading picking it up again, and in the end, I waded through more than half in the hope of finding some redeeming quality, then skimmed to the end to make sure I didn’t miss anything - it wasn’t worth the effort. The premise was intriguing, but A disappointing, self-indulgent novel that is too long, goes nowhere and leaves plot lines unfinished. The characters are unlikeable, insecure, and unreasonably juvenile in their thoughts and interactions. I found myself putting this book down, and then dreading picking it up again, and in the end, I waded through more than half in the hope of finding some redeeming quality, then skimmed to the end to make sure I didn’t miss anything - it wasn’t worth the effort. The premise was intriguing, but the story just didn’t deliver.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bam cooks the books ;-)

    This may be my favorite book of the year. It's also the first novel written by Shteyngart that I've read and the first set during the pandemic, a topic many authors wanted to avoid throughout 2020 as we all had too much of the reality to bear. The plot: Eight people come together at a compound in the country upstate to weather the pandemic lockdown. There is the main house they call the House on the Hill where they will all congregate for dinner and conversation and five separate bungalows. Most This may be my favorite book of the year. It's also the first novel written by Shteyngart that I've read and the first set during the pandemic, a topic many authors wanted to avoid throughout 2020 as we all had too much of the reality to bear. The plot: Eight people come together at a compound in the country upstate to weather the pandemic lockdown. There is the main house they call the House on the Hill where they will all congregate for dinner and conversation and five separate bungalows. Most of the group have been friends for years (and bring that shared-history with them as baggage) but there are a couple of newcomers to the group, including a famous actor, and the eight-year-old adopted daughter of the compound's owner. For this captive audience, many weighty issues arise: love, lust, friendship, betrayal, social media, immigration, racism and even the specter of death. These are all fallible human beings who make plenty of mistakes. What's superb is how insightfully the author treats his characters, some of whom grow quite a bit in these months spent in isolation from the world at large. There are laugh-out-loud moments as well as tears. This character-driven book will not be for everyone but it was one I found quite satisfying and memorable. I received an arc of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for the opportunity to be introduced to a fine writer who is new to me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Holly R W

    "Our Country Friends" is a satire of life in the U.S. during the early months of the pandemic. Specifically, it looks at Sasha and Masha, (husband and wife in their fifties), and the bungalow community they have formed with Sasha's dearest friends. Perhaps the most sympathetic person here is the couple's 8 year old daughter Nat, who has Asperger's. Sasha is a novelist who has invited his friends to his country home where they can all evade contact with the virus, while enjoying gourmet meals and "Our Country Friends" is a satire of life in the U.S. during the early months of the pandemic. Specifically, it looks at Sasha and Masha, (husband and wife in their fifties), and the bungalow community they have formed with Sasha's dearest friends. Perhaps the most sympathetic person here is the couple's 8 year old daughter Nat, who has Asperger's. Sasha is a novelist who has invited his friends to his country home where they can all evade contact with the virus, while enjoying gourmet meals and the bucolic setting. To add further interest, Masha and his wife are Russian Americans who adopted Nat from China. Two friends are of Korean descent, one friend is Indian American, and one is a younger American woman who had been Sasha's student. The odd man out is a character called The Actor, who is there to collaborate with Sasha on a film version of his book. Some passages were spot on in their satire. The observations about Russian immigrants (Shteyngart's own family background) were particularly interesting to me. However, I found myself liking the novel less and less as I read more of it. I could not relate to the characters, who left me feeling cold. Each one was lacking a moral center, with a couple of exceptions. I had loved the author's Little Failure. This is a much different book, but it fell short for me. 2.5 stars

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    3.5 stars. The general concept here hits you repeatedly over the course of the book. You remember all the old novels you've read, where the wealthy gather with their friends for a season at their country estate, seeking peace from troubles in the city, and you can see them superimposed on these characters, gathered in upstate New York as the pandemic throws the city into danger and chaos. Friends gather, love sparks, relationships stumble, drama ensues. It is familiar and it is somehow new in th 3.5 stars. The general concept here hits you repeatedly over the course of the book. You remember all the old novels you've read, where the wealthy gather with their friends for a season at their country estate, seeking peace from troubles in the city, and you can see them superimposed on these characters, gathered in upstate New York as the pandemic throws the city into danger and chaos. Friends gather, love sparks, relationships stumble, drama ensues. It is familiar and it is somehow new in these new circumstances. We have an unusual cast of characters. The landowner's livelihood hangs in the balance. (To remind us of where he is drawing from, Shteyngart refers to his fictional counterpart as "the landowner" more often than he calls him by his name.) And the pandemic hangs over everything. It was both too much and comfortingly familiar to see the characters' attempts to distance and protect each other, especially in their first weeks together. Covid hangs over everything the way a war would hang over one of those novels from the 1800's you read years ago. I enjoyed the depictions of the characters, some of which are truly scathing. (The wealthiest of them, though, somehow remains mostly above reproach, which I found odd given how much class plays into the story.) There is humor everywhere despite the dark cloud. But there is also a deep distrust for everything outside their little set of bungalows, especially as the rural white people around them start hanging thin blue line flags and the sounds of gunfire in the distance increase in frequency. By the end of the story everyone has changed. Well, mostly. There are some things Shteyngart dives right into and other things he leaves weirdly off the table. (Sasha, the aforementioned landowner and central character, is practically an absent father who takes almost no interest in his child that we see on the page, particularly noteworthy as his wife who is still working is managing all the childcare. And it just sits there without any real consideration.) There is a diversity of characters, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, four of them of South or East Asian descent, though they are almost all relatively wealthy. (Even if the landowner has squandered most of his reputation and savings, but that sure sounds like many of those 1800's novels, doesn't it?) They have conversations about the pandemic, about their work, about race, and about class and mostly these do not feel like you are being beaten around the head by the book's themes or the time and place of the setting. But I still felt the limitations of the book. There were so many things left unexplored. The one character who has no real assets and no prestige is given the least attention until the very end of the book. Sasha is so annoying that I wanted to shake him, even though I knew this was that excess of self-deprecation by proxy that can happen in novels where you've created a fictional stand-in of yourself so as to appear somewhat humble and self-aware, but mostly I just didn't like him at all and didn't see what the others saw in him. As much as the concept did the heavy lifting, there were still times when it felt like it was playing a bit too safe and I can't quite put my finger on why.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Gary Shteynart’s Our Country Friends is a full-on pandemic novel, born and reflective of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Shteyngart locates the action in the Berkshires, with a Shteyngartian cast of two married Russian emigres (Sasha and Masha); their Harbin-born daughter; mutual friends of many years Karen Cho, Vinod Mehta, and Ed Kim; Dee Cameron, a former writing student of Sasha’s and a stand-out beauty; and The Actor. Dee’s now a popular essayist: ”Her essays were the equivalent of a new prison Gary Shteynart’s Our Country Friends is a full-on pandemic novel, born and reflective of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Shteyngart locates the action in the Berkshires, with a Shteyngartian cast of two married Russian emigres (Sasha and Masha); their Harbin-born daughter; mutual friends of many years Karen Cho, Vinod Mehta, and Ed Kim; Dee Cameron, a former writing student of Sasha’s and a stand-out beauty; and The Actor. Dee’s now a popular essayist: ”Her essays were the equivalent of a new prisoner coming up to the toughest inmate in the can and slugging them right in the face. She wrote with a disdain for weak-bellied sentiment, mixed in with tough-love observations about the social class that had recently welcomed her into their messy brownstones.” Sasha’s invited them to shelter from and wait out the pandemic on his Berkshires compound, with its five themed guest cottages. ”People were dying in the city. Some more than others. The virus had roamed the earth but had chosen to settle down there, just as the parents of Masha, [Sasha] Senderovsky, Karen, and Vinod had chosen it four decades ago as a place to escape the nighttime reverberations of Stalin and Hitler, of partition and Partition, of the pain that radiated not in distant memory but cracked outright from their own fathers’ hands. / Catching a [cell phone] signal in the main hosue, the bungalow colonists learned of what was happening a hundred and twenty miles down the river, and they felt many things, but mostly they felt guilt.” Sasha hopes to reinvigorate his flagging finances and career by convincing The Actor to collaborate on and collaborate on a script; Vinod hopes to fulfill his long unrequited love for Karen and to launch his unpublished novel; Karen hopes to fascinate Sasha and Masha’s socially awkward and isolated pre-teen daughter Nat; and Ed and The Actor both lust after Dee. Sasha’s inviting The Actor is purely transactional: ”Of course, someone else was coming, too. Someone who was not a friend. Someone who made Senderovsky, already a drinker, drink more.” And Shteyngart conveys why Sasha greets The Actor with mixed emotions: ”I’ve been rereading Odysseus this morning,’ The Actor said. Oh no, Senderovsky thought. ‘I was thinking about my own commonalities with Odysseus.’” All the while, Masha, a psychiatrist, struggles to maintain her now virtual psychiatric practice and to keep the compound COVID-free: ”They force me to be somebody I’m not, Masha thought. They mistake my caring for authoritarianism, and then I have no choice but to become Stalin in an apron. But what option do I have if I’m to keep these cretins from getting sick?” And as Sasha welcomes Vinod to the compound: ”Senderovsky spread out his arms. ‘Can’t hug,’ he said. And, just to warn you, Masha’s gone all epidemiological.’ ‘She is a doctor,’ Vinod said.”. Our Country Friends feels initially like a too-obvious Chekhovian set-piece. But Shteyngart’s deft characterizations of New York ethnic intellectuals in their middle age and his hit-the-mark humor transforms Our Country Friends from what could have been heavy-handed caricature to warm and affecting portraits of his characters and their long friendships. This is a comedy of manners, a Berkshire drawing room comedy, but also true-to-life reportage on living through the frights and fears of 2020. Here Sasha stocks up on liquor: ”Deep in the sacristy, [Sasha] Senderovsky picked out an eighteen year-old bottle of something beyond his means, two bottles each of cognac and rye, and, to show his frivolous side, schnapps and a strangle single malt from the Tyrol. The proprietor, a shaggy Anglo with a rosacea nose peeking out from his loosely worn mask, looked very pleased as he rang up the many purchases, his fingers clad in black disposable gloves. ‘Just got a call from the state,’ he said to Senderovsky. ‘They might shut me down any day now as nonessential.’ Senderovsky sighed and bought and extra case of the Riesling and two bottles of an artisanal gin he had never hear of. He could picture Ed pursing his lips and pronouncing it ‘drinkable.’ When the final bill, adding up to just over four digits, meandered out of the machine in many long spurts, Senderovsky’s hand could barely slalom through his signature. A special occasion, he consoled himself.” Our Country Friends proves once again that Gary Shteyngart is much more than a comic novelist. While Shteyngart populates his novels with superficially stock ethnic characters, he animates each characters with fully independent and universal identities. Our Country Friends is both a fine pandemic novel and also a fine novel. This is the right novel at the right time: 4.5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for providing me with an ARC e-copy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Kind of self-indulgent? There are also a lot of characters I didn't like and wasn't especially interested in. This is one of the first pandemic novels I've read, and I was interested in seeing how the author would handle these recent events. And he's a adept and engaging writer, but ultimately, this was kind of a flop for me. A writer/professor and his wife, a psychologist, have a country house with a bunch of little satellite bungalows around the main house, and they fill them with a collection o Kind of self-indulgent? There are also a lot of characters I didn't like and wasn't especially interested in. This is one of the first pandemic novels I've read, and I was interested in seeing how the author would handle these recent events. And he's a adept and engaging writer, but ultimately, this was kind of a flop for me. A writer/professor and his wife, a psychologist, have a country house with a bunch of little satellite bungalows around the main house, and they fill them with a collection of people, some old friends, an ex-student, and a very handsome and famous actor with whom the writer-professor hopes to launch a TV project. They're all rather unpleasant with the exception of Vinod, an old friend who is just kind of boring, Karen, an old friend who has gotten extraordinarily rich by inventing a popular app, and the writer's daughter, who is somewhere on the spectrum and full of obsessions (mainly with a Korean boy-band). The relationship between Karen and this daughter was definitely my favorite thing in the book. These characters have big delicious dinners on a covered porch that sounds amazing, they take walks in the countryside where they see Blue Lives Matter signs and signs in support of the terrible president, some of them sleep with people they shouldn't sleep with, or maybe people they should, and then at the end.... (spoilers below) ... one of them takes FOREVER to die. So many swirling, distorted (and unearned by the previous chapters of the book) reminiscences. I didn't like the book much, but I quite disliked the ending.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Vickie

    Shteyngart captures the zeitgeist of 2020 … the pandemic, racial issues, the political split, the immigrant experience, white supremacy, the dangers of social media. There is humor, some absurdity; some satire, some farce. I thought parts were brilliant, other sections I just wanted to skim over. Is this THE pandemic novel as some tout it? I don’t think so, but it is certainly an important contribution to this body of literature. I recently read another pandemic novel by another noted author whi Shteyngart captures the zeitgeist of 2020 … the pandemic, racial issues, the political split, the immigrant experience, white supremacy, the dangers of social media. There is humor, some absurdity; some satire, some farce. I thought parts were brilliant, other sections I just wanted to skim over. Is this THE pandemic novel as some tout it? I don’t think so, but it is certainly an important contribution to this body of literature. I recently read another pandemic novel by another noted author which is soon to be released. While Our Country Friends is more intellectual, worldlier, perhaps wittier and both address the delusional aspects of Covid, I felt the other novel to be much more readable.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Many will argue that the events surrounding 2020 – be it COVID, be it the election, be it the BLM movement, and so on – changed us all. After all, these circumstances impacted every individual in some way, shape or form, and to varying degrees. Times may have been “uncertain;” how affected we were by them was anything but. I’m here to argue that 2020 didn’t change us all rather than exposed us for whom we truly are. Our fears and trepidations became more visible, our opinions more pronounced, ou Many will argue that the events surrounding 2020 – be it COVID, be it the election, be it the BLM movement, and so on – changed us all. After all, these circumstances impacted every individual in some way, shape or form, and to varying degrees. Times may have been “uncertain;” how affected we were by them was anything but. I’m here to argue that 2020 didn’t change us all rather than exposed us for whom we truly are. Our fears and trepidations became more visible, our opinions more pronounced, our proclivity for selfishness manifested to masturbatory levels. We became avatars, grouped by archetypes, losing much of our individual uniqueness in the meantime. That’s not to say some of us have not thrived during this period or made new discoveries about themselves. Crisis all but forces us to look adversity in the eye and choose whether to adapt or devalue, accept or deny. My overall opinion of the last twenty-ish months isn’t necessarily favorable, but I do recognize its silver linings – few and far between though they may be. One silver lining? The art which has been a direct result. I recall mentioning my anticipation for this presumed artistic output during a conversation with my favorite local bookseller, positing how, not unlike in the aftermath of a world war or tragedy a la 9/11, 2020 and its many events would inspire works in all mediums. And sure enough, we’re already beginning to see immediate responses, both good and bad. Our Country Friends, the latest novel from satirist Gary Shteyngart, represents both sides of the fence. On its surface, the novel is a pinpoint characterization of our times: our heightened paranoias, our honed edges, our newfound passions. Yet when looked at in finer detail it doesn’t so much illustrate society’s adaptation to a “new normal” way of life as it does poke fun at it. But is it too soon to do so? Are we not yet far enough removed from the events of last year to begin lampooning it? I’ve always been of the opinion we never took the pandemic seriously enough, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it couldn’t use a little levity to help balance things out. That said, one’s opinion of Our Country Friends may be determined simply by one’s viewpoint of our current situation. I’m certainly not going to fault anyone for feeling as though not enough time has passed to caricaturize calamity, to minimize us – sufferers amidst a great tragedy – to avatars. Be that as it may, we’ve become so wrapped up in our avatars we’re all but begging for satire. This was apparent long before 2020 sharpened us; the digital era had all but stripped away the authenticity we had been purporting vis a vis our social channels. But Our Country Friends isn’t a book about who we’re intending to be: it about who and what we’ve become. Or at least who Shteyngart has become – though he’s hardly much different than who he was before. Which is to say, the writer continues to be fun if not funny, self-aware if not self-deprecating. Yet juxtaposed with the seriousness of our current times, to say his approach comes across as a bit much would be more than a bit of an overstatement. Simply put, Our Country Friends is a near-perfect encapsulation of how exhaustive our collective exhaustion has progressed. But does this make Our Country Friends great? Not by a long shot. In fact, I’d argue it’s not even kinda good, despite starting with such promise. Perhaps my expectations changed as pages turned, perhaps the joke(s) fizzled up quicker than yesterday’s meme. I just know that for me, Shteyngart’s talent can only go so far before becoming schtick. And, quite frankly, I find schtick to be gimmicky. Boring, even. And that’s precisely what Our Country Friends becomes once we’ve gotten acquainted with its titular characters. That I found each of Shteyngart’s characters to be wholly unlikable certainly played its part, but I could cite several novels I’ve enjoyed which featured a similarly odious ensemble. So what’s Shteyngart’s point, then? To prove just how insufferable we are? Well, point taken. Yet I needn’t a book to amplify this, and certainly not one rife with characters whom besides being unlikable are also unrelatable. Anchoring Our Country Friends is Sasha, a failing Russian novelist (likely based off Shteyngart himself because, well, seemingly every one of his protagonists is) who invites several friends and acquaintances to wait out the pandemic at he and his family’s country home in upstate New York (totally relatable!). His wife, Masha, is a psychiatrist whose level of paranoia has reached fever pitch level; she’s constantly ensuring everyone in attendance maintain a safe distance. Their wildly precocious daughter, Natasha, is obsessed with BTS and wants to go by Nat moving forward; Shteyngart force-fits the serious matter of gender fluidity (and K-Pop, for that matter) in a rather unserious setting as if checking off his own personal list of 2020 hot topics. Joining them are Sasha’s high school friends: a struggling writer named Vinod, and his crush, Karen, who is conversely uber-successful thanks to her development of a dating app. In addition, there’s Ed, who travels a lot for whatever reason but can’t because, well, no one is traveling at the time; Dee, a former student of Sasha’s who is white, good looking and right-leaning; and The Actor, who is – you guessed it! – an actor, not to mention one who is unsurprisingly self-obsessed. But then again, each character is. For if 2020 showed us anything it’s how self-obsessed we all became. Such is the result of being quarantined, of having one’s outlets limited, of having no other choice than to succumb to our own egos. I understand Shteyngart is trying to put a hilarious spin on a moment in time that was anything but; I guess I just wasn’t up to reliving it just yet. Or ever. Perhaps you will be. Perhaps you need that levity to help counterbalance the tragic events of the previous twenty months. Me? I am trying to move forward in this rather fucked up society, not reflecting upon just how fucked up it is (let alone celebrating it). So while Our Country Friends represents one of the first of many “pandemic novels” it’s one that, to me, missed the mark – ironic given how on-the-nose many of Gary Shteyngart’s observations may have been. Because at the end of the day, schtick is an exhaustive routine, and Our Country Friends is a prime example of it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    2.5 rounded up The second of the play-in novels for The Tournament of Books. Similar to The Sentence, this one takes place in the context of Covid and the first year of the pandemic. Shteyngart gives us a group of successful artsy type friends gathering at a country estate a few weeks after the pandemic begins and we follow their fraternal interactions, adulterous melodramas, and past betrayals coming to light as this small group bunkers in for months in hopes of avoiding illness. Although Shteyn 2.5 rounded up The second of the play-in novels for The Tournament of Books. Similar to The Sentence, this one takes place in the context of Covid and the first year of the pandemic. Shteyngart gives us a group of successful artsy type friends gathering at a country estate a few weeks after the pandemic begins and we follow their fraternal interactions, adulterous melodramas, and past betrayals coming to light as this small group bunkers in for months in hopes of avoiding illness. Although Shteyngart's satirical voice is funny at times, I struggled with his characters, who on the surface should be the most interesting of folks but whose internal thoughts are nothing short of banal and predictable. And unlike the very earnestness and sincerity that Erdrich gave her characters in The Sentence, Shteyngart seems to be mocking his, which sometimes it is earned (the performantive liberalism of this upper middle class types deserves sneering at) but often felt without purpose (what you getting at Gary?). In this sense Erdrich's work may feel more didactic but sometimes trying to be clever and less obvious results in obscuring the point (which is a failing in Our Country Friend).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    This started out slow for me, and to be honest it stayed slow (Shteyngart is generally pretty frenetic) but this was slow in a Tolstoyian/Chekovian way which I like just fine. I ended up adoring this pandemic Uncle Vanya with loving and explicit nods to The Big Chill and in my opinion clear connections to Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Pedro season of The Real World: San Francisco. The book centers on a Covid house party of sorts organized by successful, but financially struggling, writer Sash This started out slow for me, and to be honest it stayed slow (Shteyngart is generally pretty frenetic) but this was slow in a Tolstoyian/Chekovian way which I like just fine. I ended up adoring this pandemic Uncle Vanya with loving and explicit nods to The Big Chill and in my opinion clear connections to Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Pedro season of The Real World: San Francisco. The book centers on a Covid house party of sorts organized by successful, but financially struggling, writer Sasha Senderovsky. (I always assume Shteyngart is writing some aspect of himself in his main characters, but no character in his fiction has seemed so clearly a Shteyngart avatar as Sasha.) Sasha's wife Masha, a psychiatrist, is terrified by and obsessed with Covid. The couple has recently left the city and moved to a rural area near a college town in upstate New York where they have built outbuildings so they can have their city friends surrounding them and avoid rubbing elbows with actual rural people whom they assume are all undereducated, gun-toting, Trump-loving white supremacists. For Covid lockdown they choose to surround themselves with Sasha's three best friends, as well as a writer who studied with Sasha and is currently enjoying some fame for writing a book about being raised poor white trash (see eg Hillbilly Elegy but this author is just a low-key racist, not a right wing propagandist like JD Vance.) Also invited is a famous actor working on a miniseries treatment with Sasha (who I am pretty sure is David Duchovny with a soupcon of James Franco.) Like all of us they assumed lockdown would last for a short time and then realized it was not ending any time soon. There is lots of drama, lots of sex (some gross some not, but all a bit more elemental than I generally enjoy reading about), lots of food and alcohol, lots of weird shifting relationships filled with betrayal and lust and love and reconciliation, lots of analysis of masculinity among ostensibly feminist men, and lots of levels of privilege. This is a very literary book, in the sense that much of it is essentially a literary salon (until, as they say in The Real World "people stop being polite and start getting real.") This is a very New York book. This is a very Jewish book. This is a very American book. That checks a boatload of boxes for me, but if you have antipathy toward, or simply a lack of interest in, literary Jewish New Yorkers, this is not going to work for you. Also, he really drags the borough in which I reside, so if you love Queens expect to be irked. Extra points for ending in my favorite Filipino restaurant -- he doesn't name it, but I am about 95% sure it is my beloved Jeepney! (Now sadly closed and I sorely miss their banana ribs.) Thanks Gary! A Jeepney memorial is a worthy choice.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Joulwan

    Phew. From the description, I expected this novel to be gripping and fulfill my affection for novels that feature disparate characters and conflict in an isolated setting. I was NOT prepared for this gloriously cathartic and moving story. I was IN it, and it felt so good to shed tears (and laugh) at key points in the plot. So grateful for a novel that is very entertaining and captures the fear, uncertainty, sadness, and hopefulness I think we've all been feeling during this pandemic. Phew. From the description, I expected this novel to be gripping and fulfill my affection for novels that feature disparate characters and conflict in an isolated setting. I was NOT prepared for this gloriously cathartic and moving story. I was IN it, and it felt so good to shed tears (and laugh) at key points in the plot. So grateful for a novel that is very entertaining and captures the fear, uncertainty, sadness, and hopefulness I think we've all been feeling during this pandemic.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tom O’Leary

    Author Gary Shteyngart is one of the most inventive, liveliest, unendingly hilarious fiction writers putting pen to paper on our planet. This novel of eight friends coming together in the Berkshires during COVID is so imaginative and spellbinding and sexy and lusty and heartbreaking and life affirming. I could not put it down. I recommend it without reservation. Bravo.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    I always read Gary Shteyngart with delight and satisfaction. His latest novel provided a rich, spicy and delicious stew of generational immigrant angst and pandemic freak out, all washed down with copious amounts of alcohol. I have now read three pandemic novels (Burnt Coat and The Sentence were the two previous) and for me these novels have brought me more news than the news. That is why I love fiction so much. Spending hours with characters going through the past two years, each with their own I always read Gary Shteyngart with delight and satisfaction. His latest novel provided a rich, spicy and delicious stew of generational immigrant angst and pandemic freak out, all washed down with copious amounts of alcohol. I have now read three pandemic novels (Burnt Coat and The Sentence were the two previous) and for me these novels have brought me more news than the news. That is why I love fiction so much. Spending hours with characters going through the past two years, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, their own dreams and fears, has brought me great riches of understanding. Whether of Russian descent, Korean descent, the American South, whether from the worlds of stage, screen, literature, tech, or psychiatry, all these characters come together to shelter in place with their best friends and, in one case, a worst nemesis. Everything that could go wrong does but from this crucible a certain redemption is found. Helpful hint: it is good to know something about Chekhov's plays before or during reading Our Country Friends.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Carole

    DNF I quit out of boredom: too many self-absorbed characters and not enough of anything else. I will not be rating or reviewing. This is my opinion only.

  22. 5 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    DNF. I tried. I kept pushing forward, but I just could not finish. In fact, I probably read ⅓ of the story. It does read somewhat like a Russian novel, but it mostly made me grind my teeth in boredom. Shteyngart is one of my favorite contemporary authors, especially Super Sad True Love Story, which was a masterpiece! Lake Success was also compelling. I was ready for yet another pandemic book, but done by an author with a highly original voice. However, I was disappointed. It moved too slowly, and DNF. I tried. I kept pushing forward, but I just could not finish. In fact, I probably read ⅓ of the story. It does read somewhat like a Russian novel, but it mostly made me grind my teeth in boredom. Shteyngart is one of my favorite contemporary authors, especially Super Sad True Love Story, which was a masterpiece! Lake Success was also compelling. I was ready for yet another pandemic book, but done by an author with a highly original voice. However, I was disappointed. It moved too slowly, and the characters bored me to tears, the plot making my eyes glaze over. What happened? Was it me? I am leaving it unrated, as I admit that I just couldn't engage, but the fault may lie with me.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Hall

    Between seeing this novel billed as the start of Covid-19 pandemic literature and a premise which I found irresistible (“eight friends, one country house, four romances and six months in isolation”), I was very keen to read. Sasha Senderovsky is a Russian-born fading literary star who along with his psychiatrist wife, Russian-born Masha, and precocious adopted eight-year-old Korean daughter, Nat, is planning to wait out the pandemic at their Hudson Valley bungalow colony. Joining the Senderovsky Between seeing this novel billed as the start of Covid-19 pandemic literature and a premise which I found irresistible (“eight friends, one country house, four romances and six months in isolation”), I was very keen to read. Sasha Senderovsky is a Russian-born fading literary star who along with his psychiatrist wife, Russian-born Masha, and precocious adopted eight-year-old Korean daughter, Nat, is planning to wait out the pandemic at their Hudson Valley bungalow colony. Joining the Senderovsky’s are Sasha’s two oldest school friends, both second-generation immigrants; hugely successful Korean app developer, Karen Cho, and Indian Vinod Mehta, the unsuccessful nice guy of the group. Making up the party are Karen’s distant cousin, American Korean Ed, and one of Sasha’s brightest students in outspoken and attractive Southern essayist, Dee Cameron. Sasha’s waning literary career has seen him switch to screenwriting and with his future finances resting on a collaboration with a film star known only as The Actor, it is his arrival that dictates the early mood. Although the book starts and ends with Covid-19 at the forefront, for the bulk of the novel the virus takes a back seat and seems rather incidental, with neither the hosts or guests seeming unduly worried about anything other than themselves. This was a source of frustration for me and it felt very much like Gary Shteyngart never really thought beyond conveniently adding the threat of the virus to the novel as a selling point and failed to actually deliver. Between this there are several romances (some more convincing than others), a burgeoning friendship between Karen and Nat and the discovery of an old betrayal which threatens to divide Sasha from his oldest friends. By halfway, I was struggling to follow the plot (or lack thereof) and after a decent opening the book lost its way completely with an extensive dream sequence and a denouement that felt oddly twee in comparison to how self-absorbed and unpleasant the characters were for a good eighty percent of this book. To me the characters felt like caricatures that relied mostly on stereotypes of their respective cultures as opposed to real people and made it hard to consider the book as an exploration of friendship and futures in a time of real uncertainty. So much of the humour seemed tied to the fact that Sasha, his wife and his closest friends are all second-generation immigrants to America with Russian, Korean and Indian heritage respectively and as a native Brit the humorous references flew right over my head. I found the entire second half not only a slog to push through but a struggle to follow and one thing I didn’t expect was to be bored rigid by a book lauded as humorous by some many sources. The half-hearted attempt to introduce friction between the white locals and Sasha’s ethnic guests in the second half was eye-rollingly obvious and it was a relief when this book finally limped to a close.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Phyllis

    This novel is a kindness to all who have been living through the coronavirus pandemic these past two years. I had my doubts about whether anyone could, while we are still in the midst of it, write a novel about how we experienced those first six months in America, but Shteyngart has somehow captured it all in just a little over 300 pages between two cardboard covers. The characters are a lovable and (most of the time) loving cast of eight who each bring their special charms & gifts to the country This novel is a kindness to all who have been living through the coronavirus pandemic these past two years. I had my doubts about whether anyone could, while we are still in the midst of it, write a novel about how we experienced those first six months in America, but Shteyngart has somehow captured it all in just a little over 300 pages between two cardboard covers. The characters are a lovable and (most of the time) loving cast of eight who each bring their special charms & gifts to the country house where they spend their lock-down months together. Although their accommodations might be easier to bear than were those of many during those endless days & weeks & months, they face the same twilight zone unrealness we've all been feeling, leading to nostalgia, crossness, confusion, weepiness, falling in & out of love, eating & drinking way too much, unbearable anxiety, watching mindless streaming television shows, self-doubt, paranoia (both justified and unjustified), financial impossibilities, longing & loss, fearful hope, . . . -- well, you know; we all know.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Garrett Zecker

    Gary Shteyngart’s sardonic work has always been a dark, lovely, and fun experience for me. I follow his work closely, and appreciate the sharp teeth of his honest candor that can both sting and tickle when it rears up bites mid-sentence. After all, who else can write about one's experience with a botched later-in-life circumcision that draws near universal acclaim for a combination of sharp, intriguing, funny, and tragic energy (besides Jonathan Cameron Mitchell, of course)? His newest venture i Gary Shteyngart’s sardonic work has always been a dark, lovely, and fun experience for me. I follow his work closely, and appreciate the sharp teeth of his honest candor that can both sting and tickle when it rears up bites mid-sentence. After all, who else can write about one's experience with a botched later-in-life circumcision that draws near universal acclaim for a combination of sharp, intriguing, funny, and tragic energy (besides Jonathan Cameron Mitchell, of course)? His newest venture is an absolute wonder to behold: a pandemic novel, set and released during the pandemic – a feat that would seem so ridiculously stupid had he not executed it with the undeniable brilliance, heart, humor, and perfection we’ve seen in everything he has let loose on this world. The story covers the lives of a group of friends and acquaintances as they descend upon a small country backdrop where they are stuck (unbeknownst to them) for the first six months of the pandemic. The group includes an app developer, a Hollywood screenwriter, an actor, a child, and some have known one another for decades while others are just happening upon a scene they aren’t aware is about to unfold. There are dalliances and whispers of divorce, while everyone navigates their interpersonal struggles through the invisible cloud of COVID when they emerge from their separate bungalows on the property. Shteyngart presents some truly remarkable moments in this piece. First, we enter the novel with the strict awareness (through the simple use of a Dramatis Personae list) that we are entering a play of sorts. Our stage is less a place where we sit and observe while the fourth wall is removed and we passively understand that they can move on and off stage while the action continues, and more an enclosed ape den at the zoo – we know they can’t leave, and they know they can’t either. So, what happens as we observe? A beautifully Chekhovian dream that is less 19th century Russian stage work and more a 21st century Wes Anderson slant of what our American hearts truly do when driven to the despairs of isolation. In Shteyngart’s hands, it masterfully executed – and he assures us he knows exactly what he is doing as he tips his wool fedora to his audience more than once in referencing (and embodying) Chekhov’s work in the very format he is working in. Of course, you don’t need to be familiar with Chekhov’s work to get any of this, but English majors like me are guaranteed to swoon in the final act. Finally, the topical contents of the novel cover everything from the pandemic itself, to the economy, to race and identity in America, the nature and structure of romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships, and more – a smattering of the core humanity we all struggled with over the last two years presented with a kind wit and tenderness. This book was amazing, and I would be happy to never read another pandemic novel as I am sure it would be a depressing letdown after this beautiful experience. Shteyngart is a master of his art, and I can say with authority that it is best exercised in this new novel among all of his others. I think it is time I take a jog back through his catalogue – always a pleasure and unmatched among his peers writing in the satiric dramedy style he is known for. Shteyngart delivered a beautiful book for a complicated time, and I wouldn’t have wanted to rehash it with anyone else. Our Country Friends will be birthed with joyous fanfare and great aplomb tomorrow, November 2, 2021 from Penguin Random House.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    I will recommend this book to anyone who already loves and understands this author. I was very excited when this ARC became available because, to my knowledge, there are no other books out there yet that are pretty much all about Covid and the friends and family who get trapped together because of it. Apparently, I do not have the type of sense of humor needed for this book, nor do I have the education for it. I am not as politically correct as one needs to be to read this book. Endless run-on sen I will recommend this book to anyone who already loves and understands this author. I was very excited when this ARC became available because, to my knowledge, there are no other books out there yet that are pretty much all about Covid and the friends and family who get trapped together because of it. Apparently, I do not have the type of sense of humor needed for this book, nor do I have the education for it. I am not as politically correct as one needs to be to read this book. Endless run-on sentences, dislikeable characters, bigotry, prejudice, and out-and-out babble predominates what I have managed to read. I am done. Covid has made life too difficult to force myself to finish something this painful. *ARC provided by the publisher.

  27. 5 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for the ebook. This is one of my favorite authors and this a thrilling comedy and also the first fiction that deals with the Covid 19 outbreak. Eight people, some lifelong friends sprinkled in with strangers, are trying to get through the pandemic in a house and a series of adjoining huts in the Hudson Valley. It’s the author’s strongest homage to Chekhov as we see these eight characters couple off into surprising pairs and find long held secrets revealed ove Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for the ebook. This is one of my favorite authors and this a thrilling comedy and also the first fiction that deals with the Covid 19 outbreak. Eight people, some lifelong friends sprinkled in with strangers, are trying to get through the pandemic in a house and a series of adjoining huts in the Hudson Valley. It’s the author’s strongest homage to Chekhov as we see these eight characters couple off into surprising pairs and find long held secrets revealed over the uncertain six months that the book portrays.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    This was such a great book with great characters that stay with you long after you finish the book. I laughed and cried as I turned the pages. I love Gary Shteyngart and his books, but this is by far my favorite novel of his. It's about a quirky group of people who quarantine together in a country house. It's about so many things such as sex, racism, adoption, stalking, infatuation, food, immigration etc. In short this is one of my favorite novels. Gary Shteyngart hurry up and write your new boo This was such a great book with great characters that stay with you long after you finish the book. I laughed and cried as I turned the pages. I love Gary Shteyngart and his books, but this is by far my favorite novel of his. It's about a quirky group of people who quarantine together in a country house. It's about so many things such as sex, racism, adoption, stalking, infatuation, food, immigration etc. In short this is one of my favorite novels. Gary Shteyngart hurry up and write your new book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I was first introduced to this author with Lake Success so I knew I wanted to read this one! Initially it was hard to get into. but I think that was me with all the pandemic conditions. I knew I would like (or not) the characters as Shteyngart always flushes them out and weaves a story that is magical in its realism and poignancy. In this novel, friends convene when invited to Sasha and Masha's home. Each of the guests has his or her own story to tell and much is revealed through the events that I was first introduced to this author with Lake Success so I knew I wanted to read this one! Initially it was hard to get into. but I think that was me with all the pandemic conditions. I knew I would like (or not) the characters as Shteyngart always flushes them out and weaves a story that is magical in its realism and poignancy. In this novel, friends convene when invited to Sasha and Masha's home. Each of the guests has his or her own story to tell and much is revealed through the events that happen as the book goes on. Characters feel real and many themes are explored. Waiting eagerly for his next one! Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    Filled with classic Shteyngart humor and pathos, this is destined to become the quintessential covid read. I both laughed out loud and cried and would recommend this book to people who are fans of bottle episode type scenarios and those interested in complex flawed and very human characters.

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