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Little Failure

A Memoir

Shteyngart, Gary, 1972-

(Book - 2014)
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Little Failure
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The award-winning author of Super Sad True Story traces his uproarious experiences as a young bullied Jewish-Russian immigrant in Queens, his haphazard college pursuits and his initial forays into a literary career. -- Publisher's description. "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." -- Publisher's description.
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, [2014]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 0679643753
9780679643753
0812995333
9780812995336
Branch Call Number: B Shteynga S
Characteristics: 349 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

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List - Misfit Memoirs by: nypl_kingsbridge Aug 15, 2014

Novelist, Gary Shteyngart, self-proclaimed nerd and outsider, gives us a self-deprecating look at his journey as a child coming from Communist Soviet Union to Republican Queens, New York. Described by his peers as desperate and trying too hard, Shteyngart details his many failings in that departm... Read More »


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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
  • GummiGirl rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

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
  • JCLRachelSH rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

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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