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Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

Little Failure: A Memoir (2014)

by Gary Shteyngart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Maybe it’s not a good thing that I’m a fan of Shteyngart’s books, because I was bitten by the skepticism bug in the first chapter when he described some of his post-college jobs and they sounded eerily familiar. I know, I know, he used his experiences as the foundation for some of the scenes in his novels…. but what if it’s all fiction? His humorous, flippant style rubbed me the wrong way throughout the rest of the “memoir”. Is he using humor as a defensive wall around himself, because he is revealing all his embarrassing thoughts and feelings… or is the whole story exaggerated?

On the other hand, I am roughly the same age, and I found it fascinating that he was living such a different lifestyle in Queens while I was a spoiled suburbanite watching cable TV and playing with my Atari and Rubik’s Cubes.
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  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart is a very highly recommended memoir.

Many people only know Gary Shteyngart as a successful writer but in this humorous memoir, Little Failure, he proves he is gifted at whatever form his writing takes. Little Failure follows Shteyngart from his childhood to the present. Born Igor Shteyngar in Leningrad, at age 7 Gary immigrated to the USA with his parents in 1979. He was an asthmatic child and the struggle to handle this looms large in his early life. It was clear to him even before his mother gave him the American/Russian nickname "failurchka" or "little failure" that he was never going to live up to his parent expectations.

What he experienced would be a steep learning curve for any non-English speaking child. He had to try to learn English and Hebrew all in a new, foreign country while simultaneously listening to his parents seemingly fight constantly. Traumatic would be an understatement. Following, always with self-deprecating humor, his struggles in school, with classmates, with women, and on and on, Little Failure offers stories and insight into how Shteyngart views his family and the world around him. He always feels he is "A Little Failure of the first order" as he struggles with the dichotomy that is his life.

What Little Failure does best, beyond being an outstanding memoir, is show that Shteyngart is an exceptional storyteller whether the stories are fiction or nonfiction. Even if you have or haven't read Shteyngart, and/or love or dislike his writing, those who like to read memoirs are going to enjoy this one. It is certainly entertaining, but also emotional, honest, and poignant.
It only helps establish the bond between writer and reader that the chapters open with cleverly labeled pictures from Shteyngart's life that add a personal touch.

I'm going to have to admit that I started Super Sad True Love Story and set it aside without finishing it. After reading Little Failure I think it's time to give it another try. He noted that after he completed this memoir, he reread his three novels and was "shocked by the overlaps between fiction and reality." His memoir could give me a new insight and appreciation for his fiction.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Wanted to like this book, but found it confusing to read. It left me unaffected, though the author certainly had an potentially interesting and moving story to tell. At moments when I was just ready to settle into a chapter or an event and get to know Shteyngart better, he would jump back or forward in time, like someone who couldn't face the truth of the moment. Indeed, he seems to realize this, but while much pain was described little seemed truly felt. The humor he is supposedly known for was sparse.
  seschanfield | Mar 7, 2016 |
Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
349 pages


I won this book from GoodReads nearly 2 years ago. It has taken me that long to get to it because…I’m slow. But alas, I found the time to read this memoir by author Gary Shteyngart. This memoir deals with much of his first four decades of life but focuses heavily on his relationship with his parents and his early life as an immigrant from USSR to the United States.

I’m going to be honest. I love biographies/memoirs on anyone, including people I’ve never heard of…which was good in this case because I had no idea who Gary Shteyngart was. I hadn’t heard of his books, I hadn’t heard of the name. And luckily, that didn’t matter. I really enjoyed this memoir. The author was frank but humorous in just the right places, you can tell he doesn’t try to sugarcoat life – it just is what it is. Not all parts are extremely exciting or action-packed but then again, neither is life. I had trouble putting this book down at times…until my infant yanked it out of my hands and decided I was done for the night. Not only that, but it made me decide I should take a look at Gary Shteyngart’s books of fiction. He is a talented writer (at least from reading his memoir) and while I hear his books aren’t for everyone (what book is?), I’m curious what he has to offer. Good memoir and glad I had the chance to read it!
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  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
Heard so much about this author and this book. He is a funny and truthful person. I enjoyed maybe half of the book. Parts here and there. The funny was very funny. ( )
  bogopea | Jul 21, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gary Shteyngartprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ross, Jonathan ToddNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679643753, Hardcover)

After three acclaimed novels—The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story—Gary Shteyngart now 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.
Shteyngart’s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer or at least an accountant 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 boyfriend, at being a writer, and most important, at being a worthwhile human being.
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 decided to become a writer, and his grandmother paid him a slice of cheese for every page he produced. He wrote Lenin and His Magical Goose, his first novel.
In the late 1970s, world events changed Igor’s life, and his parents would change his name. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev made a deal: exchange tankers of 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 after spending the first part of his childhood in the Soviet Union was equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.
Shteyngart recalls that the first two books he ever read were about small children shrunk to even smaller size and forced into a hostile place. Now those stories appeared to have come true, as he lived 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.

Advance praise for Little Failure
“Gary Shteyngart has written 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. Readers who’ve fallen for Shteyngart’s antics on the page will relish the trademark humor. But here it’s laden and leavened with a deep, consequential psychological journey. Brave and unflinching, Little Failure is his best book to date.”—Mary Karr, bestselling author of Lit and The Liars’ Club

“A surefire hit.”—Library Journal

Praise for Super Sad True Love Story
“Wonderful . . . [combines] the tenderness of the Chekhovian tradition with the hormonal high jinks of a Judd Apatow movie.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:06 -0400)

"... 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."--

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