Little Failure: A Memoir

Little Failure: A Memoir

Gary Shteyngart

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0812982495

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY MICHIKO KAKUTANI, THE NEW YORK TIMES • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY TIME
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY MORE THAN 45 PUBLICATIONS, INCLUDING
The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • NPR • The New Yorker • San Francisco Chronicle • The Economist • The Atlantic • Newsday • Salon • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Guardian • Esquire (UK) • GQ (UK)

Little Failure is the all too true story of an immigrant family betting its future on America, as told by a lifelong misfit who finally finds a place for himself in the world through books and words. In 1979, a little boy dragging a ginormous fur hat and an overcoat made from the skin of some Soviet woodland creature steps off the plane at New York’s JFK International Airport and into his new American life. His troubles are just beginning. For the former Igor Shteyngart, coming to the United States from the Soviet Union is like stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of Technicolor. Careening between his Soviet home life and his American aspirations, he finds himself living in two contradictory worlds, wishing for a real home in one. He becomes so strange to his parents that his mother stops bickering with his father long enough to coin the phrase failurchka—“little failure”—which she applies to her once-promising son. With affection. Mostly. From the terrors of Hebrew School to a crash course in first love to a return visit to the homeland that is no longer home, Gary Shteyngart has crafted a ruthlessly brave and funny memoir of searching for every kind of love—family, romantic, and of the self.

Praise for Little Failure

“Hilarious and moving . . . The army of readers who love Gary Shteyngart is about to get bigger.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“A memoir for the ages . . . brilliant and unflinching.”—Mary Karr
 
“Dazzling . . . 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
 
“Literary gold . . .  [a] bruisingly funny memoir.”Vogue
 
“A giant success.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“[Little Failure] finds the delicate balance between sidesplitting and heartbreaking.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“Should become a classic of the immigrant narrative genre.”—The Miami Herald
 
“As vivid, original and funny as any that contemporary U.S. literature has to offer.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“The very best memoirs perfectly toe the line between heartbreak and humor, and Shteyngart does just that.”—Esquire
 
“Touching, insightful . . . [Shteyngart] nimbly achieves the noble Nabokovian goal of letting sentiment in without ever becoming sentimental.”—The Washington Post
 
“[Shteyngart is] a successor to no less than Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.”—The Christian Science Monitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

my parents had reached their own middle age, while they have seemingly reversed time like true Americans? My greatest fear: dying before they do. Growing up, it had been the reverse. I couldn’t understand how to be on this earth without them. But now every time I board a plane for some ragged destination, I feel their fear ascend through the air alongside me, the “autistic” vaccinations coursing through my blood. “I will wash quickly under the armpits,” my father says, while my mother continues

attack. I put the book down with sweaty hands. I thought of the girl that I loved at the time, that not-so-gentle censor of my bookshelf and my tastes; I thought about how she was taller than me and how her teeth were gray and straight, purposeful like the rest of her. And then I wasn’t thinking of her at all. The memories were queuing. The church. My father. What did Papa look like when we were younger? I saw the big brows, the near-Sephardic skin tone, the harried expression of someone to

booth marked by the word LENINGRAD (separate phone booths for different cities) to hear my father’s voice crackle dimly against every technological problem the country was experiencing, from a failed nuclear test in the Kazakh desert to a sick braying billy goat in nearby Belorussia. We were all connected by failure back then. The whole Soviet Union was just fading out. My father told me stories over the phone, and to this day I think my hearing is the most active of my five senses because I

deceptively near. To my parents and their friends, the Yugoslav motel is an unquestioned paradise, a lucky coda to a set of difficult lives. My father lies magnificently beneath the sun in his red-and-black-striped imitation Speedo while I stalk down the beach, past baking midwestern girls, my keloid scar, my secret sharer, radiating beneath an extra-large Band-Aid. Oh, hi there. The words, perfectly American, not a birthright but an acquisition, perch between my lips, but to walk up to one of

even at a place like Oberlin, where their kind is technically forbidden. They will simply invert the power structure to suit their needs. They will come out on top no matter what. Stuyvesant was hard but hopeful; Oberlin, on the other hand, reminds me yet again how the world works. I guess that’s why they call it an education. My hair is growing and curling into locks and reaching toward my ass; my shirts are becoming flannelly just like Kurt Cobain’s. A child of Lenin is learning about Marxism

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