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Little Failure: A memoir Hardcover – 27 Feb 2014
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A memoir for the ages ... Un-put-down-able ... Little Failure is his best book to date (Mary Karr, author of The Liars' Club)
One of America's most exciting writers (Guardian)
Shteyngart has carried the spirit of Russian literature into the iPhones, subways and suburbs of America (Financial Times)
A marvel of a story. His finest book yet. (Zadie Smith)
People who think Gary Shteyngart is a very funny man and a complete pervert are in for a shock by the time they finish this memoir: he turns out to be a very complete man and a funny pervert. Little Failure is a delight (Aravind Adiga)
I'm always wary when a young writer offers up a memoir, but Gary Shteyngart delivers big-time with Little Failure. His family's story is quite remarkable, and it's told with fearlessness, wisdom and the wit that you'd expect from one of America's funniest novelists (Carl Hiaasen)
If you, like me, have often wondered: How did Gary Shteyngart get like that? Little Failure is the heartfelt, moving, and truly engaging memoir that explains it all. Dr. Freud would be proud (Nathan Englander)
Portnoy meets Chekhov meets Shteyngart! What could be better? (Adam Gopnik)
Hilarious, moving, compelling . . . Thanks to Little Failure, the army of readers who love Gary Shteyngart is about to get bigger (The New York Times)
Little Failure finds the delicate balance between side-splitting and heart-breaking (Oprah Magazine)
About the Author
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972. In 2007 he was named one of Granta's Best Young American novelists. His debut The Russian Debutante's Handbook was widely acclaimed (and won the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction), as were his second, Absurdistan (one of the 10 Best Books of the Year in the New York Times) and Super Sad True Love Story (which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize). He writes regularly for the New Yorker.
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loves, by way of Rome, to live in New York - exchanging one sort of 'not-belonging' (because in Russia he is a Jew) for another sort
(because in the USA he is a Russian). He writes about his relationship with his parents, their high hopes, and his fall into a life of
lethargy, drink, and dope, before falling on his feet as a writer.
Interesting and moving; it is all too easy to assume that once immigrants come to the 'promised land' everything will be OK, but
we now know it often isn't easy to overcome the issues they carry with them like heavy luggage.
When a writer of the calibre of Gary Shteyngart writes a memoir, there is a high level of expectation. Does he deliver? Well, yes to a point, but truth be told I was a little disappointed.
It is interesting - of course it is - to read of his family's departure from Leningrad when the author was aged seven...to hear the unflinching details of his mother's and father's poor parenting skills...to read how a weedy, asthmatic young boy, so indoctrinated in old-style Soviet self-aggrandizing, had to re-think the 'evil West'...to discover how he eventually got to grips with the English language and how he got his unusual name. (His given name was Igor and Shteyngart is apparently short for Stonegarden. When he became a writer, how come he didn't go for Iggy Stone, I wonder? How cool that would look on a dust-jacket!)
With this memoir, Shteyngart has been accused of being overly jocular. There are perhaps one or two grunts of amused recognition to be had but it really can't be said that this is as funny as his novels (not that there's any reason why it should be). But I did expect it to be more heart-felt and I felt throughout that, as he wrote, Shteyngart was very aware of his 'audience' and that he was delivering a version of himself - not necessarily the true one.
"Little Failure: A Memoir" is not just a humorous memoir worthy of comparison with "Angela's Ashes", McCourt's finest. It's a compelling saga of a young Russian-American emigrant's survival in New York City, learning to become as American as his Soloman Schechter School classmates. (The progressive, religiously-oriented Jewish school in Queens which he attended for his primary and middle school education.) It's a memorable exploration into the education of a young writer, as noteworthy in its own right, as any book on this subject written by Mark Twain, Frank McCourt or Pete Hamill - to name but a few - and one that is destined to be viewed as an instant classic in the genre, chronicling a literary life that begins in pre-adolescence as a would-be writer of bad Soviet Union-inspired space opera science fiction to the literary titan that he is today. It's also a compelling examination of Shteyngart's life-long struggles to please his parents - the title is an Anglicized version of the quasi-Russian word "Failurchka", his mother's less than affectionate nickname for him - and how he succeeds - and fails - in falling in love with girls, and later, women, from his late adolescence to the present. Much to his credit, Shteyngart never ceases to amaze readers with his self-deprecating wit, having described emigrating from his country of birth as a "Jew for Grain" exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. Despite the obstacles placed in his path, Shteyngart never comes across as someone traumatized - or embittered - by them, always relying on his witty, humorous prose to win the reader's attention and affection, even under the worst circumstances one can imagine. According to his Random House editor, David Ebershoff, himself, a notable writer of fiction ("The Danish Girl"), Gary Shteyngart has written a literary classic. May I be bold to suggest that a century from now this superb memoir will be as well regarded and as celebrated as Twain's best; without question, "Little Failure: A Memoir" is one of the great memoirs of our time, worthy of comparison with Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes", Pete Hamill's "A Drinking Life", Mary Karr's "The Liar's Club" and Rick Moody's "The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions". Shteyngart's hilarious, heart-warming prose will entertain and delight many readers, keeping them spellbound from the first page to the last, and making his debut memoir among the most discussed, most anticipated, books of 2014.
This is sometimes funny and sometimes touching and no doubt the perspective is hard won. I didn't find it all that exciting to read though.
For the immigrant experience in the US there's a collection of writings by many hands called Becoming Anericans that I woukd strongly recommend. And for more searing autobiography there is of course Karl Ove Knaussgard...
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