Little Failure

I admit, I’ve had Gary Shteyngart’s novels on my To Read list for a long time, and I did start Super Sad True Love Story but I never managed to finish it. I couldn’t get into it, though the writing was excellent and funny. Little Failure, his memoir, was the opposite experience– I couldn’t get enough of the book. It was the first book in a long time that I finished in less than week. Reading while nursing, reading before bed, reading when I woke up, reading while waiting for Stella to get out of school. All the time, reading until I got down to the last word.
I am not an immigrant. My father is not an immigrant. Even my grandfather was not an immigrant–his siblings were born in Ukraine but he was first generation, 5 months old at the time his family was first counted in the census. But we are Asheknazi Jews, and that comes with a particular brand of humor that can be hard to understand if you don’t grow up surrounded by it. Jews often temper tragedy and sadness with brevity, with self-deprecating humor, sentimentalism and wit. It’s a form of emotional and spiritual survival that evolves out of being persecuted by someone, somewhere in every millenia since the beginning of time. Though nothing about Shtyengart’s life is intimitely familiar to me, I immediately understood the humor imbued in this book. There is comedy in everything. The comedy is in the telling, the voice, the tone, the ability to poke fun at onesself, and to temper pride with self-loathing. The constant comparisons to Woody Allen are no accident.
But more than just a memoir of an immigrant child, the book is also the story of Shteyngart’s discovery that he is a writer, and a good one at that.  For Shteyngart, writing is a natural consquence of being an only child who spends a lot of time in his own head. The stories have to come out eventually and when he realizes that his storytelling, inspired by his father’s own creative tales, is the ticket to acceptance from his American peers, there is motivation to keep the stories coming, a sensation not much different from the abused who supplicates his abuser to keep himself alive. As long as Shteyngart can tell his funny, fantastic stories, his status remains elevated enough to keep the bullies at bay for a short while.
Little Failure is, at base, a poignant, funny, bittersweet tale of one boy’s search for love and redemption from those most hard-pressed to give it to him.

{I recieved an egalley from NetGalley for review purposes. I have not been compensated for this review and all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.}