I am wary of reading memoirs, if they aren’t too generic. Anything specific and my guard is on – because it seems that it would be difficult for me to follow or comprehend. After all, it happened or is happening to the author. So how will I be able to relate to it? What does one do then while attempting to read a memoir? How does one sink into it and actually enjoy it? There have been times when I have just dropped some half-way and then there have also been times when I sat through some and actually enjoyed them. “Little Failure” by Gary Shteyngart falls into the latter category.
I must admit that I had a tough time getting into the book. After the first thirty pages or so, I also thought of giving up on it, but then somehow continued reading it. The book is bleak in most parts and yet strangely enough it uplifted me in other parts. The book is a memoir as it rightly says – it is about a young Russian-American emigrant’s survival in New York City, learning to become American. It is about the hopes and dreams of his parents – of the insecurities, of the different way of living and of coping with two sides. It is about everything you feel when you do not belong and in so many ways you do belong, so there is always this shaky middle ground where you stand.
“Little Failure” works as a memoir (after the first sixty pages) because it is honest. Gary at no point uses any sugar-coating or frills up the book so to say. Every emotion and lack of it is as real as it can get. The title comes from the fact that Gary chose to be a writer instead of another profession, which to his parents represented failure. Hence, he was their “little failure” or “Failurchka” – the term created by his mother.
“Little Failure” is one of those books that will take you time to get through. It is not an easy read. At the same time, it is a delight to read someone’s story – not because it could be different or similar to yours, but because there is this hope that it fills with you at some point – given so many topics and themes that conjoin and melt. From identity, to the unhappy marriage of your parents, to having to be a mediator, to trying very hard to survive in an alien land, with the choices you make. The writing is funny and sharp and heartbreaking as well – which adds to the entire tone of the book, just right.
So many times in his three books, Gary has spoken about the emigrant experience. In fact, all of those books are only about that – the feeling of being lost in a strange country. “Little Failure” is sort of a prelude to those books. It is a personal experience and yes it has changed my view on memoirs to a very large extent. This is perhaps one of the best books I have read this year and if you like stories of people – real stories, then you must pick this one up.
Here is a funny book trailer: