LITTLE FAILURE: A memoir ~Gary Shteyngart
“We’re in America, and, frankly, life is just not that hard. She needs to make it harder. For her. For me. Because we never really left Russia.”
Truthfully, LITTLE FAILURE is not a book I would have chosen to read, because the writing is very macho, manly, driving in its style, the kind that often makes me wish I was not compelled to finish what I start. There is an air of entitlement and self-centeredness which just makes me want to close the cover and move on. Then I must think about this, this is a memoir of an experience I know very well, the major steps and transitions are all the same ones which I needed to take and which still make my siblings and me feel “less than worthy.” There is a reason I need to read this book, and just set aside the style and bravado as defense mechanisms – look for the Borscht and the truth.
Gary Shteyngart is an immigrant to the USA under President Reagan’s Russian Jew Policy. He arrived at the age of 7 with his parents and one grandmother and step grandpa. The Jewish community in New York assisted them in their transition and they lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment, found furniture left on the sidewalk, received food and clothing donations and IGOR now Gary was given a scholarship to a Hebrew School, where he learned English and how to defend himself with humor. He was never truly accepted by the other children, except for one boy with Liberal parents and then finally another boy who lived across the street from his Grandmother’s later acquired apartment.
Shteyngart is an only child and for his first 7 years he suffers with asthma and anxiety attacks. His primary treatment is being “cupped” and his parents holding his mouth open with a spoon all night long. (The first European doctor Gary experienced gave him medicine, an inhaler, which allowed him to breath and lessened his symptoms.) His parents fought all the time and talked about divorce. His mother was a piano teacher in Russia and his father a mechanical engineer. Gary was so proud of the Lenin Statue in Moscow Square and wearing his Red Scarf as a true patriot of Russia. His maternal grandmother assisted him in writing his first story. His father worried about him getting enough math education and he played with his young son; hitting him regularly and calling him “Snotty” for a nick name. His mother called him “Little Failure”. His mother stood in line for hours and hours to get her son food – particularly ham.
Children of immigrants are often the translators of the new culture and language for their parents. The author wonders what wealthy children do in their free time if they are not worried about finances 24/7. Education is another area where children who have arrived in the USA must excel and move ahead, they must shine in math and science because that is a universal language and a place with guaranteed work and future; these are subject areas where American children are not pushed to excel, rather these are left to the realms of the gifted students who like the subject matter.
I truly could relate to the immigrant experience. I was born in the USA to Canadian parents. Educational excellence was expected and would give us acceptance. Money was always on their minds and installed into their children’s minds as a worry and a sign of success. Go out to dinner, a waste of money! We purchased our own clothing and our own college educations.
There is a loss of identity when one is taught that another country is superior. The propaganda and constant rhetoric is important work to demythologize as one grows and discovers their true identity and begins to accept the autonomous self. Shteyngart must stop hiding in his Vodka and Weed before he can find himself and acceptance – it is a fascinating life story and opportunity to learn about one’s own defense mechanisms which blocks the opening of the door to an authentic life; the stages of integration demonstrated.
I was sent a PDF proof copy of this book by TLC Online Book Tours and Random House Publishers. There were several typos in my copy which were very funny and added lightness to some of the details of the painful parts of life. I had no problem identifying with the struggles, which were clearly spelled out along with the steps which the author needed to take as an immigrant. I believe many people will enjoy this read – LITTLE FAILURE
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