Shteyngart's novel follows the life of a man in his twenties as he tries to make sense of his life in the wake of his family's fall from good fortune and his country's changing political atmosphere. Misha Vainberg is the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia, but his dad murdered an American and ruined his family's reputation because of it. After the fall of the Soviet Empire, Russia is struggling to adapt to the new laws and freedoms. Amidst personal and cultural chaos, Misha tries to find work, go to college in America, and develop his relationship with his girlfriend.
Misha's personal life is a mess. He's wildly in love with his girlfriend, but she lives in New York. Because his father killed an American, the entire family is barred from entering the country. This also affects Misha's education because he was supposed to be attending an American college. These obstacles lead him to become resentful of both his father and the spoiled college kids he sees in the U.S. Since his life isn't going according to plan, Misha is jealous of those who seem to live inconsequential, worry-free lives, specifically those students. Attending university with their parents as benefactors, these students throw parties and make mistakes from from consequences. Misha feels entitled to have the same experiences, but his dad ruined not only that but also separated him from the love of his life.
Another important element of this novel is the political sphere. Russia is in the midst of a huge national transition in the 1990s. Amidst the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian people are faced with a dramatically different lifestyle. For example, they can leave the country at free will. Notwithstanding this freedom, they are afraid to leave. After decades of oppressive government control, they are slow to exercise their long-atrophied freedom muscles. This is the atmosphere where Misha has to deal with the fallout from his father's crime and his own personal turmoil. While people cooperatively attempt to navigate this foreign version of society, they also mourn the loss of all that they had established under the old rule.
The ideas of maturity, politics, entitlement, and relationship which are discussed in Shteyngart's novel are prevalent in today's society. Despite being over a decade old, this book is still just as relevant to the current society. How do Russia and America interact? Understanding the systems and decisions which got us here, we can better interpret the implications of our current choices for the future.