In August 2020, Shteyngart was working on the final act of the novel when his health and sanity collapsed. As a child, he had suffered from an infection resulting from a botched circumcision, and the wound burst, an ordeal he described in a article published earlier this month in The New Yorker. In agony and at times mind-blowing from an anticonvulsant that one of his doctors prescribed, his state of turmoil seeped into his prose and shaped the novel’s final tragic act, when one of the guests contracted the Covid and had nightmarish visions.
“The idea of ââdying, for the first time in my life, was not odious,” he said.
Shteyngart has largely recovered, and as we walked back to his home and friends, he looked gleeful, almost giddy, as he described the outpouring of support after the article was published and his feeling of victory after having won a battle on Twitter with a mohel who attacked him. . âThey don’t send their best mohels,â he said.
As night fell, other guests arrived – novelist Paul La Farge and his wife Sarah Stern, co-artistic director of the Vineyard Theater, novelists Rebecca Godfrey and Dinaw Mengestu and their spouses, Herb Wilson and Anne-Emmanuelle Mengestu . Mehta, who also showed up, produced a fragrant 14-month-old Parmesan that he smuggled in from Bologna and a potato salad with mustard seeds, cumin and curry leaves. Shteyngart rushed forward happily, filling wine glasses.
Dinner was served on a screened porch, and the platters of food arrived in seemingly endless waves. First, the roasted green beans smothered in the tonnato prepared by Baluyut, one of the many dishes that evening that also appears in “Our Country Friends”. A platter of grilled sardines with lemon and rosemary arrived next, followed by sausages, lamb chops, grilled salmon and cheeseburgers, then apple cider donuts, homemade apple pie and spiked apple cider.