Little Failure

Little Failure

A Memoir

eBook - 2014
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After three acclaimed novels, Gary Shteyngart turns to memoir in a candid, witty, deeply poignant account of his life so far. Shteyngart shares his American immigrant experience, moving back and forth through time and memory with self-deprecating humor, moving insights, and literary bravado. The result is a resonant story of family and belonging that feels epic and intimate and distinctly his own.
Born Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad during the twilight of the Soviet Union, the curious, diminutive, asthmatic boy grew up with a persistent sense of yearning--for food, for acceptance, for words--desires that would follow him into adulthood. At five, Igor wrote his first novel, Lenin and His Magical Goose, and his grandmother paid him a slice of cheese for every page.
In the late 1970s, world events changed Igor's life. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev made a deal: exchange grain for the safe passage of Soviet Jews to America--a country Igor viewed as the enemy. Along the way, Igor became Gary so that he would suffer one or two fewer beatings from other kids. Coming to the United States from the Soviet Union was equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.
Shteyngart's loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer or at least a "conscientious toiler" on Wall Street, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka --Little Failure--which she applied to her son. With love. Mostly.
As a result, Shteyngart operated on a theory that he would fail at everything he tried. At being a writer, at being a boyfriend, and, most important, at being a worthwhile human being.
Swinging between a Soviet home life and American aspirations, Shteyngart found himself living in two contradictory worlds, all the while wishing that he could find a real home in one. And somebody to love him. And somebody to lend him sixty-nine cents for a McDonald's hamburger.
Provocative, hilarious, and inventive, Little Failure reveals a deeper vein of emotion in Gary Shteyngart's prose. It is a memoir of an immigrant family coming to America, as told by a lifelong misfit who forged from his imagination an essential literary voice and, against all odds, a place in the world.

Praise for Little Failure

"[A] keenly observed tale of exile, coming-of-age and family love: It's raw, comic and deeply affecting, a testament to Mr. Shteyngart's abilities to write with both self-mocking humor and introspective wisdom, sharp-edged sarcasm and aching--and yes, Chekhovian--tenderness." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Dazzling . . . Little Failure is a rich, nuanced memoir. It's an immigrant story, a coming-of-age story, a becoming-a-writer story, and a becoming-a-mensch story, and in all these ways it is, unambivalently, a success." --Meg Wolitzer, NPR
"What a beautiful mess! . . . [Shteyngart has] not just his own distinct identity, but all the loose ends and unresolved contradictions out of which great literature is made." --Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books

"An ecstatic depiction of survival, guilt and perseverance . . . as vivid, original and funny as [anything] contemporary U.S. literature has to offer." -- Los Angeles Times
"Hilarious . . . an affectionate take on growing up in gray Leningrad and Technicolor Queens." -- People

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, 2014
ISBN: 9780812995336
Branch Call Number: Online eBook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc

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Apr 30, 2014

I have increasingly enjoyed Shteyngart's work, and Little Failure may just be his best book yet. Funny, engaging, truthful, and brutal. His writing shows a great, compassionate humanity, and, as with all great writers, allows the reader to have many "aha! that's exactly how *I* feel!" moments.

Feb 17, 2014

Having read all of Shteyngart's novels, and several non-fiction (autobiographical) pieces he's written for The New Yorker, the material here was mostly familiar to me. But I love his sense of humor and how he can also convey the deep sadness of a sickly childhood and of most things Soviet. I only wish he had included a photo of the Chesme Church, which plays a pivotal role in the story (though of course I found it online.)

Jan 27, 2014

I've been crushing on Gary-Shteyngart-the-person since Day 1. How can you not be in love with a cheeky Soviet immigrant who blurbs a million books, writes about wearing Google Glass for the New Yorker, and has encyclopedic knowledge of old school hip hop and ghetto tech? With LITTLE FAILURE, I'm now officially crushing on Gary-Shteyngart-the-writer, too. In his most vulnerable project to date, Shteyngart lets down his guard to write about the Soviet immigrant experience. How does a 7-year-old boy go from living amongst exploding Soviet TVs and writing his first novel — LENIN AND HIS MAGICAL GOOSE — for one slice of cheese per page, to living in a tiny American apartment with his screaming parents and being the laughingstock of the Solomon Schechter Hebrew Day School in Queens? Not easily, it turns out. It helps that his American TV wasn't the exploding variety. LITTLE FAILURE is Gary Shteyngart's best writing yet; a memoir that strives for truth and addresses that age-old question of how you can still love someone who had you circumcised at age 8.

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