Synopses & Reviews
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.
“A surefire hit.” Library Journal
“Many, many people in this world have received blurbs from Gary Shteyngart, but I happen not to be one of them. So you can trust me when I say: Little Failure is a delight. You ask me if it’s funny? Naturally it’s funny — he’s always funny. But alongside the jokes and the (frankly unbelievable) photos, you’ll find deep feeling on display, and shimmering sentences, and a marvel of a story.” Zadie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of NW and White Teeth
“A memoir for the ages...I spat laughter on the first page and closed the last with wet eyes. Unputdownable in the day and a half I spent reading it, Little Failure is a window into immigrant agony and ambition, Jewish angst, and anybody’s desperate need for a tribe.” Mary Karr, bestselling author of Lit and The Liars’ Club
“I’m always wary when a young writer offers up a memoir, but Gary Shteyngart delivers big-time with Little Failure.” Carl Hiaasen, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Monkey
“I fully expected Gary Shteyngart’s memoir of his search for love and sex in a Russian-Jewish-Queens-Oberlin upbringing to be as hilarious and indecorous and exact as it turns out to be; what I wasn’t entirely prepared for was a book so soulful and pained in its recounting of the feints and false starts and, well, little failures of family love. Portnoy meets Chekhov meets Shteyngart! What could be better?” Adam Gopnik, New York Times bestselling author of The Table Comes First and Paris to the Moon
“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, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
In his critically acclaimed novels, Super Sad True Love Story, Absurdistan, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Gary Shteyngart won over readers with his blistering humor and fearless vision of contemporary society. Now, in Little Failure, he tells his most heartfelt and unlikely story yet: his own. With writing that is ruthlessly honest and brave, striking a deeper vein of emotion, this is a memoir of failing superpowers, of the big-haired ’80s and the flannelled ’90s, of limitless yearning and sidesplitting mistakes, and of an immigrant family coming to America, as told by a lifelong misfit who forged from his imagination an essential literary voice and a place in the world.
About the Author
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. He is the author of the novels Super Sad True Love Story (2010), Absurdistan (2006), and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002). Super Sad True Love Story won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was selected as one of the best books of the year by more than forty news journals and magazines around the world. Absurdistan was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and Time magazine. The Russian Debutante’s Handbook won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Esquire, GQ, Travel + Leisure, The New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Shteyngart lives in New York City.