4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Little Failure" grows up to become anything but,
This review is from: Little Failure: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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Gary Shteyngart's parents called their son many endearing names, "Little Failure," "Weakling" and "Snotty" among them. His mother smothers him with worry and charges him for food, his father hits him -- dal emu po shee, a strike across the neck, as it's called -- and tells him "the world will soon forget you." Russian émigrés who moved from Leningrad to Queens, his parents aren't like the parents of young Gary's American classmates.
Yet despite what looks to us like cruelty, Mr. Shteyngart writes with love and humor about his immigrant childhood and family dynamics. "I felt the explosive nature of my father's love for me," he writes. "You can either run toward such love or run away from it." Mr. Shteyngart says he has chosen neither course, but by writing about his family, he has chosen merely to observe it.
Little Gary gradually finds his place, and his voice, in America. It happens suddenly one day when his teacher asks him to read from his novel -- a novel he had recently revealed to her that he's written. As he reads aloud to the class, stumbling with his new adopted language, he detects a shift in his fortunes. "I'm still a hated freak. But... I am redefining the terms under which I am a hated freak," he discovers. "I am moving the children away from my Russianness and toward storytelling."
And Mr. Shteyngart is an excellent storyteller with a unique voice. We all know that from his novels, Absurdistan, The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel. Readers of his fiction in particular will enjoy this memoir. I particularly liked the first part of the book centered around his youth, but lost interest as his focus in young adulthood turns toward his adventures in psychoanalysis, mind altering and skirt chasing.