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Friday, May 9, 2014

Little Failure: A Memior

I love Gary Shteyngart, so when I found out he had a memoir coming up I jumped on it. I got Little Failure back in January and have been so bogged down with work that I only just got to it this weekend--which made me feel like a big failure.

Gary Shteyngart was actually born little Igor, and his parents changed his name as a young boy after immigrating to America to avoid the expected humiliation that comes with that. Raised in Leningrad until he was of school age, little Igor was a staunch communist. When he discovers that his parents now had permission to emigrate out of the country, he tries to make sense of his new world--going to live with the enemy in America. His worldview changes dramatically after his arrival in Queens--it turns out he is the enemy, not them. As we follow now-Gary through his childhood with his ill-matched yet hilarious parents, the world of an immigrant child is opened to his readers and told with all of the charm, wit, and honesty that Shteyngart is known for.

This was one of the most heartwarming and funny books I have read as of late. It's not just funny-ha-ha, which it most definitely is as only Shteyngart can be. It's the kind of funny that pokes fun at oneself yet is still so easy to relate to regardless of circumstances. It's fair to say we all have crazy somewhere in our immediate or at the very least our extended family, so it's not terribly hard to relate to Shteyngart's sharp-witted tales of family woe.

It's incredibly fascinating to watch Gary grow up to be the writer that he is; how every encounter created the man he is now. He tells tales of how relatives bragged on him until they read his book, one even throwing it on the floor and spitting on it. Gary's parents called him "Little Failure," leading him to believe that he would fail throughout his life and succeed at nothing, not the least of which included career, relationship, and being a successful son. It is pretty well understood that you create the child you want to have by shaping his or her worldview with your words, but this is a relatively modern understanding. His mother's words greatly affected his identity throughout his childhood and early adulthood.

I was so taken by the man that Gary presents himself to be in this book. He lays out for us exactly who he knows himself to be, and at times I felt myself wanting to jump through the page and tell him that he can be whatever he wants to be, but to stick with the writing thing because he is super good at it. My heart hurt for him as he dealt with the inevitable teasing that happens when you don't speak the language, both verbally and physically, and I was particularly moved by his story of finding out that Russia was the enemy, not America, when he discovered that the world didn't view his beloved motherland the way that her citizens were indoctrinated to believe. His story of abundant bananas in America? Priceless.

Hard copy only below.

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