Little Failure

Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

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I saw Shteyngart read part of his memoir at the Southern Festival of Books so I thought I’d like it. It’s the story of his family and their emigration to the US from Soviet Russia, even going back a couple generations to tell about his relatives who were killed in WWII, either in death camps or defending St Petersburg. Shteyngart and his parents came to New York in the 70’s when Carter made his “grain for Jews” deal. The narrative explores his experience of profound culture shock, a circumcision at age 10, his constantly fighting parents, and a couple exploitative early mentors. There’s a lot about his awkward adolescence at Stuyvesant and Oberlin, his early romantic history, and the beginning of his writing career. The prose is humorous and self-deprecating; it’s fun to read. He makes a point of saying he’s never experienced writer’s block, which makes me hate him a little.

When Shteyngart was talking about the book here in Nashville, he said he had realized in his 3 novels that he’s been writing about himself, so he wanted to exorcise all of that by writing this memoir and getting it out of his system. I’ve only read one of his novels, but I can see why he’d say that. There is something appealing about Shteyngart’s signature pathetic, wimpy protagonist, but I can see why he’d feel he needs to move on from him.

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