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Those immigrants—aren’t they great? (in whispers: Especially the European ones.) Some of them were doctors and engineers and schoolteachers back in their home country, but they come over here and work so hard, doing just about anything, and they open those interesting restaurants, bless their hearts. Unless they’re like Vladimir Girshkin, the lazy, envious, conflicted leech at the center of Gary Shteyngart’s much-lauded debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. Vladimir sheds values at an astonishing rate as he travels from St. Petersburg to Scarsdale, N.Y., and back, meeting numerous eccentrics along the way and even becoming a major player in the Russian mafia. Handbook is a modern Candide, albeit a scruffy and privileged one, with Vladimir willing to slide by on his exoticism and fill up on the cheapest offerings of the New World. Americans see Vladimir as a symbol of both Old Europe and the flashy modernity of post-glasnost Russia; Russians look to him for “American Lessons,” which he happily teaches to the mobsters. The book is a rollicking ride through the contradictions of the global village, a peer into the gap between Western and Eastern Europe (Shteyngart calls the latter “the wrong half”), and an attempt at reconciliation for the author, a man not unlike his 25-year-old hero. Except Vladimir could never be bothered to write a book this sneakily trenchant. Shteyngart appears at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Arion Berger)