Commentary
5:00 am
Mon January 13, 2014

A 'Little Failure' Finds His Place

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart
Credit Georgetown Voice / Flickr / Creative Commons

When Gary Shteyngart was a young child, his mother would call him "Solnyshko," which means "little sun."

But after the Shteyngarts left Leningrad for the United States in the late 1970s, his parents were disappointed with his aspirations of being a writer. His mother melded English and Russian to come up with the pet name, "Failurchka." The translation? Little Failure. Shteyngart has adopted this name as the title for his new memoir.

Shteyngart is best known for his novels—The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story. But take a look at his memoir, and it’s obvious that Shteyngart is an author who writes what he knows. In Little Failure, the satirist takes a poignant look at his life so far.

He’s only 41 years old.

But he was seven years old when his parents decided to leave Russia for Queens, New York, primarily because of Shteyngart’s asthma, but also because they were Russian Jews, persecuted even though they weren’t practicing. Once in the United States, Shteyngart was told by his father to forget everything he knew to be true in his homeland: the United States was no longer the enemy and Russia was not winning the space race.

Not only that, his father decided they should start practicing their faith, and Shteyngart says he was “sentenced to eight years of Hebrew for a crime he did not commit.”

It is with this self-deprecating humor that Shteyngart reflects on his immigrant story, his life as a misfit, and how—through writing—this “little failure” finally found a place in the world.