Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Moving to another country is somewhat like being born anew – the immigrant can still function, but there are many new impressions and a lot to learn. Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in an empire that no longer exists, the Soviet Union. As a seven-year-old child he moved to the United States of America with his parents, and they ended up in Queens, New York. The Shteyngarts were part of a deal between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. America sent grain to the Soviets who in return sent parts of its Jewish population to the U.S., a country young Igor viewed as the enemy.

Many Americans, not the least children, considered the Soviet Union a potentially lethal adversary, and growing up in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a heavy accent. In Leningrad, young Shteyngart had been exposed to such phrases as “Lenin will live forever!,” and “1959 – Soviet space rocket reaches the surface of the moon,” but when he leaves the U.S.S.R., he learns that the nation is a military dictatorship that uses oppression, propaganda, and lies to keep its population in check.

Despite, or because of, their background, the Shteyngarts are quite naïve when they begin their lives in the U.S.A. When they receive a letter that says “Mr. S. Shitgart [sic!], you have already won $10,000,000.00!!!,” they believe what they hear. ”We cannot imagine that they would lie to our faces […] here in America.” But it is, alas, a lie, which the family finds out “quickly and brutally.” And as the immigrants adapt to life in the U.S. problems do not vanish. Old (Soviet) problems are simply replaced by new (American) difficulties. However, some challenges are internal rather than external and the Shteyngarts are like all other humans – they cannot run away from themselves. What they can do, however, is to understand who they are, and how they became that way.

Little Failure is an investigation of a family and its misadventures and adventures, written by an author whose fiction and nonfiction are closely related to each other.

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One Response to “Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart”

  1. Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks | Wake County Libraries "Book a Day" Staff Pick Says:

    […] Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart American author Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in the Russian empire that went under the name of Soviet Union. When he was seven years old, Gary and his family moved to the United States as part of a Jews-for-grains swap between the two superpowers. The Shteyngarts ended up in Queens, New York, and life in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a weird accent. This memoir investigates a troubled family’s adventures and misadventures in two cultures, and it is moving, poignant, and at times outrageously comical.  See my full review. […]

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