Category Archives: Lara Vapnyar

Our Fascinating Russian-Americans

I’m not sure how you get away with writing a lengthy piece on big-deal Russian-American novelists without once mentioning Olga Grushin; perhaps only the Russian-American novelists living in New York count. Still, Emily Gould‘s awful-titled piece on the alleged trend for Russia! is an interesting read, even if a lot of the quotes from Gary Shteyngart and Keith Gessen suggest they’re wary of her thesis that these writers are (ironic caps Gould’s) So Hot Right Now. (Gessen, for his part, is resistant to be included in this grouping, and no agent or publisher is quoted.) And Gould’s riff on Lara Vapnyar seems to argue that Russian-American authors have truly arrived only because you can now treat them with easy condescension:

[Vapnyar] is the most authentically Russian member of the club for the simple reason that her spoken English is still somewhat wobbly. She’s been able to distill that linguistic insecurity into an emphatically plain, nearly featureless writing style the New Yorker fell in love with. It gave her a career: “I had never written fiction before, in any language, and I spoke English with a monstrous accent and tons of grammatical mistakes,” she reminisces in a recent essay. It also made her a few enemies. “When my first story appeared in the New Yorker… one of my American friends said, ‘What should I do to get published in the New Yorker? Screw up my English?’” (This magazine’s editor once opined in a public forum that Vapnyar’s fiction “gets published for the same reason Thai elephants’ paintings get exhibited in galleries”; he has since recanted, and even translated one of Vapnyar’s short stories into Russian).