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Little Failure: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 7, 2014
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Top Customer Reviews
On the next day, I continued reading while eating breakfast, didn't put away the dishes, and continued reading all day, putting everything else aside, until I was done.
I laughed and I cried. I cried throughout the last chapter and until I went to sleep.
Is that enough of a review? Perhaps.
A good book touches the reader. A good book either tells the reader something they do not know, or tells them something about themselves, or both.
*Ah, but then I realized this jest is not the snarky humor of many books these days. This humor is familiar and familial, and why? This book struck me to my core. Mr. Shteyngart and I have a few things in common, but they must run deep. I'm a fourth generation American Jew, but the humor and pathos at the heart of this book came so alive to me that I forgot my age, my gender, and that I didn't spend my first seven years in the Soviet Union. The cadence of the cutting remarks, the combination of suffocating love and open hostility, the expectations of both failure and great success. . .oh it was so achingly and heart breakingly familiar. I haven't the words to explain just what happened here as I read. I am not a writer, only an average reviewer. I thank Mr. Shteyngart for his words, bringing a pitch perfect rendering of coming of age in New York to life. I know no other honorific as fitting here as the Yiddish word mensch.
This memoir morphs into almost greatness!! Really. But, you have to get through the standard expected stuff to find the pony. ( From the old joke that "With all this s..t there has to be a pony in here somewhere.") The trenchant writing doesn't begin until Gary is almost in college half way through the book.
The author had an ostensibly ordinary immigrant life. Yes, the feelings of being an outsider magnified by being a Russian- not the most loved group in America of the eighties- are isolating. Yes, having parents who are cheap and don't "get" America is isolating. Yes, being an only child is tough-- with both parents stuggling workaholics-- and is further isolating. And on and on.. BUT, the clincher is that Gary's Father beat him consistently; and his Mother just stood by, ineffectual -- isolating him more. The only love Gary remembers from this time ( his childhood) is the "touch" of beatings. At least, he was being touched, he thinks.
The best part of this memoir details how the budding author used and abused people-- only caring for himself in the short run, abusing drugs and drink to the max, not being able to make a real connection, not able to love or be loved. Only desperately wanting love and not knowing what that is.
Receiving a lot of psychiatric help was his salvation. Finding true mentors ( Chang Rae Lee was one )and friends helped. Connecting with his flawed parents and with his genes helped. He's still mixed up, of course, but certainly more understanding of others and himself.
And, he's a very good writer! The words fly off the pages from his college years on-- into our hearts.
Four plus stars.
It would seem hard to raise a son more neurotic or disfunctional than that quintessential Jewish neurotic New Yorker, Woody Allen. Yet Mom and Pop Shtenyngart do so and then some. The recipe for their dubious success reads something like this: start with a son whose gut-wrenching asthma exacerbates your very worst fears for your only child. Toss in a heart-wrenching and culturally dislocating emigration that make you strangers in a strange land, and oh, yeah leave behind most of your mother's family. It is amidst this backdrop that the author recounts hilarious and painful memories: learning English but keeping Russian, attending Hebrew School but sort of despising it, having an accent then not, being a minority, but hating other minorities, and finally having parents who both adore and abuse you.
These two extremes are the crux or the heart of what's the matter in Little Failure. At one end of the gamut are parents who clearly love you.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I didn't enjoy this book. It was a little too whiny and not as humorous as I thought it would be. Basically it is memoir about a man coming to grips with his unhappy childhood... Read morePublished 21 days ago by Amazon Customer
he's funny but not enough so to keep me engaged in why i'm meant to care about his life.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Hysterically funny. Kind of a Woody Allen memoir. Good insights into immigrant family.Published 1 month ago by rebecca carlson
Shteyngart is as good as it gets. Searingly honest. Laugh out loud funny. Constantly surprising. There were several sections I read over and over.Published 3 months ago by H. Minkoff
This review refers to the audio version. I am on disk 3 of 11 and probably will not go further, it is getting cringe-worthy. Read morePublished 3 months ago by D Joyce
Little failure Gary Shteyngart a memoir is an interesting take on the Russian immigrant experience in the 70s and after. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Stella