Clear Thinker?

Daniel Zalewsky once interviewed novelist Gary Shteyngart over dinner at the Russian Samovar, the family's Midtown Manhattan restaurant:

"Serving a meal of mushroom-barley soup, Nina, who is 56, spins a glorious tale of proud, determined Russians triumphing in America. She and her husband happily trade memories of their first salaries. (Him: '$135 a week!' Her: '$125 a week!')

"Her first American job was in a Queens sweatshop that produced cheap wristwatches. 'I liked it,' she says almost bashfully. 'Really! The boss was so friendly. When the air-conditioning did not work, he bought ice cream one day.'

"Never having heard a cheery sweatshop memory, I must look a little dubious. But Semyon, who is 63, chimes in with a supporting anecdote.

"'You know Spinoza, the philosopher? He worked as a lens maker. When he was offered a job at a university, he turned it down. He said he could think more shining lenses!'"

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