LITTLE FAILURE

“[A] keenly observed tale of exile, coming-of-age and family love: It’s raw, comic and deeply affecting, a testament to Mr. Shteyngart’s abilities to write with both self-mocking humor and introspective wisdom, sharp-edged sarcasm and aching—and yes, Chekhovian—tenderness.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

After three acclaimed novels, Gary Shteyngart 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.

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 wrote his first novel, Lenin and His Magical Goose, and his grandmother paid him a slice of cheese for every page.

In the late 1970s, world events changed Igor’s life. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev made a deal: exchange 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 from the Soviet Union was equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.

Shteyngart’s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer or at least a “conscientious toiler” 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 writer, at being a boyfriend, and, most important, at being a worthwhile human being.

Swinging between a Soviet home life and American aspirations, Shteyngart found himself living 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.

 

 

“Hilarious and moving . . . The army of readers who love Gary Shteyngart is about to get bigger.”
The New York Times Book Review
 

“Dazzling . . . Little Failure is a rich, nuanced memoir. It’s an immigrant story, a coming-of-age story, a becoming-a-writer story, and a becoming-a-mensch story, and in all these ways it is, unambivalently, a success.”
Meg Wolitzer, NPR
 

“An ecstatic depiction of survival, guilt and perseverance . . . Russia gave birth to that master of English-language prose named Vladimir Nabokov. Half a century later, another writer who grew up with Cyrillic characters is gleefully writing American English as vivid, original and funny as any that contemporary U.S. literature has to offer.”
Los Angeles Times

 

“Literary gold . . . [a] bruisingly funny memoir.”
Vogue

 

“Shteyngart possesses a rare trait for a serious novelist: he is funny—and not just knowing-nod, wry-smile funny, but laugh-aloud, drink-no-liquids-while-reading funny.”
The Economist

 

“Shteyngart’s achingly honest, bittersweet comic memoir is a winner.”
Vanity Fair

 
“[Little Failure] might just be the funniest, most unflinching memoir ever about coming to America.”
W Magazine

 

Little Failure . . . puts the lure in failure.”
The Wall Street Journal

 

“[A] touching, insightful memoir . . . [Shteyngart] nimbly achieves the noble Nabokovian goal of letting sentiment in without ever becoming sentimental.”
The Washington Post

 
“[Shteyngart is] the Chekhov-Roth-Apatow of Queens.”
The Millions

 
“Surely some enterprising scholar is already gnawing at the question of why two of the brilliant outliers of American writing were Russian immigrants. One, of course, was the great Vladimir Nabokov. The other is the youngish Shteyngart. They both have the qualities of sly humor, secret griefs.”
San Francisco Chronicle

 

“[Little Failure] finds the delicate balance between sidesplitting and heartbreaking.”
O: The Oprah Magazine

 
“[Shteyngart is] a successor to no less than Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.”
The Christian Science Monitor

 
“[Shteyngart’s] irrepressible humor disguises a Nabokovian love of the English language and an astute grasp of human psychology.”
Newsweek

 

“If you thought his fiction was funny, read Shteyngart’s memoir, Little Failure. As you might expect, he’s no less neurotic than his characters.”
New York

 
“The very best memoirs perfectly toe the line between heartbreak and humor, and Shteyngart does just that.”
Esquire

 
“[Little Failure] should become a classic of the immigrant narrative genre.”
The Miami Herald

 

“There is no better comic writer alive than Mr. Shteyngart. . . . And yet it’s [his] past, and the tension it creates with the cushy interior life that America affords, that makes him a much more interesting novelist than his American peers.”
The New York Observer

 

“Ever wonder how a Russian émigré with a wicked sense of humor becomes a great American novelist? In his new memoir, Gary Shteyngart tells his craziest, funniest, super-saddest tale yet: his own.”
Francine Prose, Interview


“Shteyngart seems to have made a deal with some minor devil (a daredevil?) stipulating that if he exposed every crack and fissure in himself, laid bare every misstep, f***up, and psychic flaw, his memoir would be a deep and original book. If so, the payoff here was absolutely worth it.”
Kate Christensen, Bookforum

 

“This Shteyngart, sad and longing and desperate for connection (with his parents, with his readers), seems the most fully human person this author has ever created.”
The Jewish Daily Forward

 
“Gary Shteyngart’s new memoir is a touching meditation on the origins, nature, and limits of humor.”
Tablet

 

“Many, many people in this world have received blurbs from Gary Shteyngart, but I happen not to be one of them. So you can trust me when I say: Little Failure is a delight. You ask me if it’s funny? Naturally it’s funny—he’s always funny. But this book is also a super sad true love story: between Gary and Lenin, Gary and his parents, Gary and women, Gary and food, Gary and America, Gary and Russia, Gary and the English language itself. And alongside the jokes and the (frankly unbelievable) photos, you’ll find deep feeling on display, and shimmering sentences, and a marvel of a story. How did an asthmatic seven-year-old Jewish-Russian immigrant in a sailor suit become one of the most beloved of contemporary American writers? Not without struggle, both historical and personal, and with a great deal of humor and grit. But mostly through paying close attention: to the way people speak, move, love, and hurt each other. It’s what gives his novels their joyful energy and what makes this memoir, in the opinion of this reader, his finest book yet.”
Zadie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of NW and White Teeth

 

“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

 

“I’m always wary when a young writer offers up a memoir, but Gary Shteyngart delivers big-time with Little Failure. His family’s story is quite remarkable, and it’s told with fearlessness, wisdom and the wit that you’d expect from one of America’s funniest novelists.”
Carl Hiaasen, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Monkey


“I fully expected Gary Shteyngart’s memoir of his search for love and sex in a Russian-Jewish-Queens-Oberlin upbringing to be as hilarious and indecorous and exact as it turns out to be; what I wasn’t entirely prepared for was a book so soulful and pained in its recounting of the feints and false starts and, well, little failures of family love. Portnoy meets Chekhov meets Shteyngart! What could be better?”
Adam Gopnik, New York Times bestselling author of The Table Comes First and Paris to the Moon

 

“If you, like me, have often wondered, ‘How did Gary Shteyngart get like that?,’ Little Failure is the heartfelt, moving, and truly engaging memoir that explains it all. Dr. Freud would be proud.”
Nathan Englander, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

 




978-0-8129-8249-7