REVIEW: Still Here by Lara Vapnyar

BOOK: Still HereVapn_9781101905524_jkt_all_r1.indd
AUTHOR: Lara Vapnyar
PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Hogarth
MY RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ (3.5/5)

Vica, Vadik, Sergey and Regina met in Russia in their school days, but remained in touch and now have very different American lives. Sergey cycles through jobs as an analyst, hoping his idea for an app will finally bring him success. His wife Vica, a medical technician struggling to keep her family afloat, hungers for a better life. Sergey’s former girlfriend Regina, once a famous translator is married to a wealthy startup owner, spends her days at home grieving over a recent loss. Sergey’s best friend Vadik, a programmer ever in search of perfection, keeps trying on different women and different neighborhoods, all while pining for the one who got away.

As Sergey develops his app—calling it “Virtual Grave,” a program to preserve a person’s online presence after death—a formidable debate begins in the group, spurring questions about the changing perception of death in the modern world and the future of our virtual selves. How do our online personas define us in our daily lives, and what will they say about us when we’re gone?

I received an electronic copy of this publication in exchange for an honest review.

3.5/5 Stars

I’m officially kicking myself for waiting so long to get this review out, but I’ve been finishing up the semester and working far more than I should be for someone who’s also a full time student, and my reviewing has been a little sporadic. So please forgive!

But never fear, because my review is Still Here.

*ba dum tss*

Okay, in all seriousness, this was really an enjoyable book. Lara Vapnyar writes so eloquently about the mundane day to day of 4 friends who have immigrated from Russia to the USA. They are each imperfect people, with one common goal: to make thinks happen for themselves in the land of possibility.

So that’s how we come to meet Sergey, Vica, Regina, and Vadik. Sergey and Vica are married. Sergey is a brilliant man who came to America for school, and while his mind is a wondrous place, he has difficulty in creating any sense of stability for his family, and can’t seem to hold a job. His constant need to turn things around has left Vica resenting him and herself for putting her education and future on the back burner so he could fulfill his. Vica has also become increasingly envious of Regina, Sergey’s ex girlfriend. Regina has seemed to have an easier go of things since moving to America. She’s married a rich husband, Bob, who works developing new technology applications, and doesn’t have to work. But what Vica fails to see is the depression Regina suffers due to the loss of her mother. While Regina knows she should be continuing her work as a successful text translator, she finds herself lost in the instant gratification of binge watching television and ordering takeout. And then there is Vadik. Vadik is an idealist. He works with Regina’s husband Bob as an app developer, and has had great financial success but lacks meaningful relationships. He spends a lot of time on Hello Love, a dating app developed by his company, searching for the love of his life. His friends enjoy teasing him about his love life, and Vadik secretly wonders if he’s imagined a certain tension between himself and Vica, who used to be lovers. Does she see him as her backup man?

Vapnyar’s biggest strength in this book is her voice of honesty. These characters could easily be four of your closest friends, dealing with their own struggles. Their mundane problems are much more relatable, because who hasn’t felt a twinge of jealousy towards an ex-lover or felt defeated by their lack of progression? This book is less of a story, so to speak, and reads more like an examination of oneself and the intricate relationships we develop with those around us.

“Vica was about to enter the cafe when her eyes fell on the menu clipped to the door. Seven dollars for coffee. Eight dollars for a bread basket with jam. That would be eighteen dollars with tax and more than twenty dollars with tip. She could afford it, but twenty dollars for bread and coffee! No, that was ridiculous. Vica turned to leave, then hesitated. What about her facebook photo? Vica, smiling, relaxed, sipping her seven-dollar coffee as if it was perfectly natural?”

There is so much examination of our selves vs. the way we project ourselves to the world based on our interactions as well as through social media. I found this very thought provoking. I think most of us can agree we are guilty of trying to portray our best selves to the world. But is the self we portray really our true self?

“A husband knew her the way she didn’t want to be known, at her worst, her ugliest, her most embarrassing. He had heard how she lied, and he had heard how she screamed in rage. He had seen her throw up, seen her with cracked nipples, seen her pick an uneaten sandwich from the garbage bin in his mother’s kitchen – she swore that she put the sandwich right back, but he didn’t see that. A Husband knew her and he didn’t want her. He didn’t even fight for her.”

My only real criticism of this book would be that, although Vapnyar finds the beauty in the monotony of our lives, it’s still monotonous, and the story found my interest failing at times. And even though I was so determined to see how things played out, it did take me longer to finish because I didn’t lose myself in the book for long periods of time. I didn’t get swept up into the novel.

Ultimately, Still Here is an endearing novel that will leave your mental gears reeling long after the last page.

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