By Michael Idov
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Paperback, 9780374531546, 304pp.)
Publication Date: July 21, 2009
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Light streams through the windows as the espresso machine roars; a gorgeous, rich scent fills the air; and witty conversation unspools over the porcelain cups.
That’s the café dream. Mark and Nina are about to experience the reality. Determined to re-create the perfect Viennese coffeehouse, they descend on New York’s gritty but hip Lower East Side to educate the locals on authentic café culture. Soon Mark and Nina are in a downward spiral that will strip them of money, friends, sex life, status, shelter, and, finally, sanity—and offer salvation through something they have never experienced: disaster.
Inspired by the author’s own coffeehouse hell, Ground Up is a sharp and funny portrait of a New York constantly reinventing itself, and a surprisingly tender story of falling out of love and back in it again.
Michael Idov is a staff writer for New York magazine and a frequent contributor of Russian-language columns and criticism to major Moscow publications. This is his first novel.
“Charming, manic, and delicious. A caffeinated valentine from a New York already gone, but certainly not forgotten. I drank it right up and felt oddly comforted.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan
“Every quotable sentence in Michael Idov’s brilliantly funny first novel (First novel? How is this possible?) induced in this reader awe and jealousy. Ground Up’s narrator is a voice and sensibility I’d follow into any story, any neighborhood. There’s talent here of the Nabokovian kind, wresting truth, love, and mordant wit from delightfully misguided dreams. I loved every word.” —Elinor Lipman, author of Then She Found Me
“Ground Up is a rare breed—a sparkling work of light satire written by a ridiculously talented man. The book starts out funny, keeps being funny, then actually gets funnier. There is not a wasted word, not one lame passage. Mr. Idov likes to say that he is not a ‘serious’ writer. Meanwhile, his brilliant novel flips the bird to our humorless, insecure literary caste system and reminds us of another author of witty urban stories: the young Anton Chekhov. But, thanks to Idov, my pleasant habit of using a coffeehouse as an office is forever tinged with guilt.” —Anya Ulinich, author of Petropolis
“A fiercely funny yet frequently touching novel about the nightmare that the American dream can become . . . Idov . . . strikes all the right chords—both cultural and emotional. Narrator Mark Scharf and his wife, Nina Liau, decide to open a hip coffeehouse on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, based on their romantic memories of one they had visited in Vienna . . . Everything that can go wrong will, in a manner both hilarious (the coffeehouse) and poignant (the marriage) . . . Though the protagonist’s own book reviews are usually caustic, even he would give this debut a rave.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A sagely wry novel . . . Packed with insight and frequently hilarious asides, Idov’s debut mercilessly takes down ‘money is an illusion’ bohoism.” —Publishers Weekly