posted 2012-04-07 16:09:11

Super Sad True Love Story

Book That Changed My Life

Alden Burke

Staff Writer

Image courtesy of

Every so often, novels revolving around dystopian futures are published. These stories often comment on the present situation of the world, with authors subtly suggesting how society might correct itself to avoid an impending doom. One of the most well known examples of this genre is George Orwell’s 1984, a story that challenged people’s perceptions of government, censorship, and surveillance.

Released nearly seventy years after Orwell’s work, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story applies Orwell’s now outdated cautionary tale to modern times. Through the story of unlikely lovers, the novel serves as a warning for today’s tech-obsessed society. Departing from other science fiction works, there are no hovercrafts, androids, or ray guns. Shteyngart’s creation is a bit more realistic. In a totalitarian United States, where the prosperous live longer, the poor die quickly and everyone’s “fuckability” is put on display, the media controls all aspects of life. And as the government works frantically to prevent an economic collapse, a revolution is close on the horizon.

Centering on New York City in the near future, the main character, a middle-aged and middle-class man, Lenny Abramov, desires to cling onto the old world while struggling to remain relevant in the present. When he meets Eunice Park, a young and beautiful Korean-American, Lenny’s rather unremarkable life suddenly develops meaning. The book alternates between Lenny’s expressive and oft-desperate diary entries, and Eunice’s self-centered, abrasive “GlobalTeens” emails that are usually sent to her mom, sister, and best friend, GirlBitch. Shteyngart’s decision to fill the novel with these deeply personal entries and letters lets the reader in on two rivetingly honest yet juxtaposing perspectives of the world these characters inhabit. There is an intimacy in reading such candid passages that both Lenny and Eunice write to their chosen confidants.

As the reader gains familiarity with the pair and the reality they live in, it becomes clear that the two lover’s relationship parallels the realities of life in the United States. In the beginning, their relationship is full of life and vigor, but as they move into the same apartment and get comfortable enough to let their guard down, they become wary and suspicious of each other’s motives and feelings. In Shteyngart’s novel, the United States, a country once celebrated for its freedom, similarly turns into a totalitarian state where everyone requires constant data streams that publicize people’s personal relationships. Both Lenny and Eunice’s relationship and the United States as a whole quickly begin to deteriorate and crumble in a magnificent fashion.

The most important aspect of Super Sad True Love Story is how seamlessly Shteyngart comes to construct this impending reality. After reading the novel, Shteyngart’s dystopian future seems inevitable. An important possession in Lenny and Eunice’s world is the “aparata,” a small tablet that everyone has on them at all times. In the beginning, the tablet is issued to everyone by the state and used to stream data, but it eventually morphs into a tool that seeps into every aspect of life, with users quickly becoming addicted and dependent on the information. The “aparata” is very similar to the iPad, but it takes the way people share information a step further, publishing people’s private data like their residence, family history, credit score, blood pressure, and even ratings of their personality and physical appearance for everyone to consume. The “aparata” also implements algorithms similar to those of Facebook and Google, which tracks user’s searches and the pages they frequent. If one day you peruse the internet for expensive jewelry, the next day you might see advertisements for well- known diamond stores.

The world in Super Sad True Love Storyis frighteningly similar to the reality of today. People are always on phones, computers, or plugged into their iPods, immersing themselves in an overabundance of information. It has become so severe that being without internet access can inflict severe anxiety upon people. As the desire to stay connected continues to grow, it makes the transition from the iPad to the “aparata,” seem not so unlikely.

Shteyngart’s story is very relevant, especially for those who are growing up in the internet age. Like the great dystopian novels that came before it, Super Sad True Love Story serves as a compelling cautionary tale. If left ignored, it could leave us stuck in an unsettling electronic future, plugged into a world bound to run out of power.