Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
A Memoir

79%

35 Critic Reviews

"Little Failure" is an immigrant story. It's also about coming of age, becoming a writer, and becoming a mensch. And in each of these ways, it is unambivalently a success.
-NPR

Synopsis

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY MICHIKO KAKUTANI, THE NEW YORK TIMES • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY TIME
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY MORE THAN 45 PUBLICATIONS, INCLUDING
The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • NPR • The New Yorker • San Francisco Chronicle • The Economist • The Atlantic • Newsday • Salon • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Guardian • Esquire (UK) • GQ (UK)

Little Failure is the all too true story of an immigrant family betting its future on America, as told by a lifelong misfit who finally finds a place for himself in the world through books and words. In 1979, a little boy dragging a ginormous fur hat and an overcoat made from the skin of some Soviet woodland creature steps off the plane at New York’s JFK International Airport and into his new American life. His troubles are just beginning. For the former Igor Shteyngart, coming to the United States from the Soviet Union is like stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of Technicolor. Careening between his Soviet home life and his American aspirations, he finds himself living in two contradictory worlds, wishing for a real home in one. He becomes so strange to his parents that his mother stops bickering with his father long enough to coin the phrase failurchka—“little failure”—which she applies to her once-promising son. With affection. Mostly. From the terrors of Hebrew School to a crash course in first love to a return visit to the homeland that is no longer home, Gary Shteyngart has crafted a ruthlessly brave and funny memoir of searching for every kind of love—family, romantic, and of the self.

BONUS: This edition includes a reading group guide.

Praise for Little Failure

“Hilarious and moving . . . The army of readers who love Gary Shteyngart is about to get bigger.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“A memoir for the ages . . . brilliant and unflinching.”—Mary Karr
 
“Dazzling . . . a rich, nuanced memoir . . . It’s an immigrant story, a coming-of-age story, a becoming-a-writer story, and a becoming-a-mensch story, and in all these ways it is, unambivalently, a success.”—Meg Wolitzer, NPR
 
“Literary gold . . .  [a] bruisingly funny memoir.”—Vogue
 
“A giant success.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“[Little Failure] finds the delicate balance between sidesplitting and heartbreaking.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“Should become a classic of the immigrant narrative genre.”—The Miami Herald
 
“As vivid, original and funny as any that contemporary U.S. literature has to offer.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“The very best memoirs perfectly toe the line between heartbreak and humor, and Shteyngart does just that.”—Esquire
 
“Touching, insightful . . . [Shteyngart] nimbly achieves the noble Nabokovian goal of letting sentiment in without ever becoming sentimental.”—The Washington Post
 
“[Shteyngart is] a successor to no less than Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.”—The Christian Science Monitor

 

About Gary Shteyngart

See more books from this Author
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972, and came to the United States seven years later. He is the author of the novels Super Sad True Love Story (2010), Absurdistan (2006) and The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002). Super Sad True Love Story won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was selected as one of the best books of the year by over 40 news journals and magazines around the world. Absurdistan was chosen as one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and Time magazine. The Russian Debutante's Handbook won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His fiction and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, Esquire, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. His work has been translated into 26 languages.
 
Published January 7, 2014 by Random House. 370 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Jan 26 2014
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for Little Failure
All: 35 | Positive: 30 | Negative: 5

Kirkus

Excellent
on Nov 12 2013

Though fans of the author’s fiction will find illumination, a memoir this compelling and entertaining...should expand his readership beyond those who have loved his novels.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Oct 28 2013

Shteyngart's self-deprecating humor contains the sharp-edged twist of the knife of melancholy in this take of a young man "desperately trying to have a history, a past."

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Jan 06 2014

...It’s raw, comic and deeply affecting, a testament to Mr. Shteyngart’s abilities to write with both self-mocking humor and introspective wisdom, sharp-edged sarcasm and aching — and yes, Chekhovian — tenderness.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Andy Borowitz on Jan 02 2014

That last bit of self-effacement is one more Shteyngart joke, of course, but it’s one he might have to retire soon. Thanks to “Little Failure,” the army of readers who love Gary Shteyngart is about to get bigger.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Conrad on Mar 02 2014

Little Failure is irrepressibly funny, but almost by default. The witticisms are fired off like bullets, and Shteyngart's wisecracking grin eventually hardens into a smirk of something like despair.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by J Robert Lennon on Feb 21 2014

Do you really need to read the memoir? Actually, yes, you do, because Little Failure is terrific – the author's funniest, saddest and most honest work to date. Like many immigrant stories, it's a tale of early suffering, gradual assimilation and eventual self-actualisation.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Gregory J. Wilkin on Feb 15 2014

He deserves some credit and thanks for the extraordinary lengths to which he has gone to keep his little plane in the air and keep his family alive. It works. Little Failure is not one.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Meg Wolitzer on Dec 27 2013

"Little Failure" is an immigrant story. It's also about coming of age, becoming a writer, and becoming a mensch. And in each of these ways, it is unambivalently a success.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Meg Wolitzer on Dec 27 2013

The relationship between being funny and serious in books has always been tricky. If you're too funny, they say you're not serious. If you're too serious, you certainly can't be funny. But Shteyngart's humor comes out of the most serious material, and vice versa.

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by Randy Boyagoda on Feb 15 2014

In the end there are no cheap jokes, only a very talented writer risking far more than he has prepared you to expect, which is, alas, its own kind of Failurchka.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on Jan 24 2014

It’s the old way vs. the new way; tradition vs. trend. And no matter how many literary laurels you may gather, this loving battle will always rage on.

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LA Times

Above average
Reviewed by Hector Tobar on Jan 02 2014

...its final moments of transcendence come in a deeply moving and uniquely Shteyngartian journey back to Russia. Traveling alongside his long-suffering parents, Igor/Gary closes a circle or two. And he allows his father to speak a few final words about an emotion born from many generations of suffering: guilt.

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Globe and Mail

Above average
Reviewed by Rayyan Alshawaf on Jan 17 2014

Whatever the setting, the only constant through all these years of self-hatred, smarmy conformism...all of which Shteyngart depicts with brutal honesty and an almost masochistic relish) remains a passion for writing. This makes for the most fascinating aspect of Little Failure.

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The Economist

Above average
on Jan 04 2014

They are routine failures that Mr Shteyngart’s prose and his New York brand of empathy—brusque and big-hearted—render meaningful and poignant. He fails and fails and fails, and then he doesn’t. Through grit and struggle and self-awareness, things fall into place...

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Nathan Whitlock on Jan 09 2014

...there is a deeper register here than can be found in a lot of Shteyngart’s fiction. The gags, though as plentiful as zebra mussels, don’t choke off the story. And when he does point his finger and laugh, it is mostly at himself.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Ray Rahman on Jan 08 2014

The innate humor of Shteyngart's storytelling is dotted with touching sadness, all of it amounting to an engrossing look at his distinct, multilayered Gary-ness.

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National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on Jan 10 2014

As the memoir approaches the present, the narrative drive weakens. This is not surprising. Memoirists and autobiographical novelists whose narratives begin with childhood must face the reality that once the subject of the memoir or autobiographical novel becomes an adult the intensity of the story diminishes.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on Jan 06 2014

“Little Failure” is the sort of book usually put off until after one’s parents are gone. But Shteyngart’s driving motivation is in part to show his parents who he really is, and how wrong they have been about him. His readers know that already.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Rimas Blekaitis on Jan 14 2014

In the end, despite not fully delivering on its possibilities, Little Failure provides readers with a ride they will not regret. Shteyngart can revisit this rich material in more depth in future novels.

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Dallas News

Above average
Reviewed by Jenny Shank on Jan 14 2014

Little Failure sings as Shteyngart recounts his journey, his eyes opening and his lungs clearing as he travels from Russia to East Berlin to Italy and then to America.

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by John Freeman on Jan 11 2014

That trip, taken over a dozen years ago, was the beginning of “Little Failure,” and in its final pages Shteyngart has done something remarkable for someone so rewarded for being someone else. He has dismantled the armor of his humor to give readers his most tender and affecting gift yet: himself.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Alden Mudge on Jan 07 2014

Few writers have written about the soul-scorching experiences of their lives with such wit and ferocity as Shteyngart does in Little Failure.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Elysa Gardne on Jan 26 2014

Shteyngart does get impressive comic mileage out of other differences with his parents, who become increasingly nuanced figures as Failure progresses...Anyone who makes it through this alternately moving, irritating and laugh-out-loud-funny memoir will understand his patience.

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Oregon Live

Good
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on Jan 06 2014

...the overall package — complete with hilariously endearing photos — is a worthwhile journey to take: a midlife story penned by a neurotic Russian boy turned accomplished American man who has honed his chops as a writer.

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Chicago Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on Jan 02 2014

Despite its jokey tone, "Little Failure" is best when it dials down the humor and focuses on conveying a dislocated sense of place and memory that will be relatable to any reader.

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Tulsa World

Good
on Jan 12 2014

It's...a brutally honest record of his transformation from fearful, sickly child to angry, self-destructive youth to professional success and mensch.

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St. Louis Today

Excellent
Reviewed by Holly Silva on Jan 04 2014

Shteyngart elevates the genre. “Little Failure” is balanced and fresh. It is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. It doesn’t sugarcoat anyone’s mistakes, but places them in context — generously so. The memoir is both entertaining and poignant.

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Lit Reactor

Good
Reviewed by LEAH DEARBORN on Jan 08 2014

Little Failure is the kind of book that makes you think, but not too hard at first; some of the themes will sneak up quietly at work or dinner, hours after you’ve set it down.

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New York Observer

Good
Reviewed by MICHAEL H. MILLER on Jan 08 2014

The irony, though, is that, for my money, there is no better comic writer alive than Mr. Shteyngart. The sections of his book where he is at college are quite possibly the best writing he has ever done.

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Nerdist

Good
Reviewed by Lauren Herstik on Jan 23 2014

Little Failure proves an affecting, transporting reading experience. It’s more of the same witty literary gymnastics Shteyngart’s delivered in his novels, tempered with the delicate and heartbreaking truth of his family history.

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Artvoice

Good
Reviewed by Aidan Quinn on Feb 17 2014

The effort of Little Failure is titanic, the execution masterful, and the result unsettling, in the best sense of the word. And the photo captions alone are worth the sticker price.

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Raging Biblioholism

Good
Reviewed by Raging Biblioholism on Dec 20 2013

...delightfully funny and brilliantly written – Shteyngart is one of the premier writers working today, in any form. Read this book to understand exactly why.

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Literary Exploration

Good
Reviewed by MICHAEL KITTO on Jan 20 2014

This was an entertaining and funny memoir about Jewish/Russian/American life as a child; well worth reading.

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She Treads Softly Blog

Good
Reviewed by Lori L on Jan 15 2014

What Little Failure does best, beyond being an outstanding memoir, is show that Shteyngart is an exceptional storyteller whether the stories are fiction or nonfiction.

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Walking with Nora

Good
on Jan 06 2014

...it’s been hard to put down; I’m enjoying the glimpse into the Russian culture, firsthand look at coming to America, and learning more about Gary’s experiences over the years.

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Reader Rating for Little Failure
70%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 417 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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