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Extended Audio Sample Little Failure: A Memoir, by Gary Shteyngart Click for printable size audiobook cover
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After three acclaimed novels, Gary Shteyngart turns to memoir in a candid, witty, deeply poignant account of his life so far.

Born Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad during the twilight of the Soviet Union, the curious, diminutive, asthmatic boy grew up with a persistent sense of yearning—for food, for acceptance, for words—that would follow him into adulthood. At five, Igor wrote his first novel, Lenin and His Magical Goose, and his grandmother paid him a slice of cheese for every page.

In the late 1970s, world events changed Igor’s life. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev made a deal: exchange grain for the safe passage of Soviet Jews to America—a country Igor viewed as the enemy. Along the way, Igor became Gary so that he would suffer one or two fewer beatings from other kids. Coming to the United States from the Soviet Union was equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.

Shteyngart’s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer or at least a “conscientious toiler” on Wall Street, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka—Little Failure—which she applied to her son. With love … mostly.

As a result, Shteyngart operated on a theory that he would fail at everything he tried. At being a writer, at being a boyfriend, and, most important, at being a worthwhile human being.

Swinging between a Soviet home life and American aspirations, Shteyngart found himself living in two contradictory worlds, all the while wishing that he could find a real home in one. And somebody to love him. And somebody to lend him sixty-nine cents for a McDonald’s hamburger.

Provocative, hilarious, and inventive, Little Failure reveals a deeper vein of emotion in Gary Shteyngart’s prose. It is a memoir of an immigrant family coming to America, as told by a lifelong misfit who forged from his imagination an essential literary voice and, against all odds, a place in the world.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “I’m always wary when a young writer offers up a memoir, but Gary Shteyngart delivers big-time with Little Failure. His family’s story is quite remarkable, and it’s told with fearlessness, wisdom and the wit that you’d expect from one of America’s funniest novelists.”

    Carl Hiaasen

  • “[Little Failure] finds the delicate balance between sidesplitting and heartbreaking…Long after the laughter fades, there lingers the image of a lonely, sickly child who learns to write to express a message ‘both desperate and common’:‘Please love me.’ 

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Shteyngart’s achingly honest, bittersweet comic memoir is a winner.”

    Vanity Fair

  • “An immigrant’s memoir like few others, with as sharp an edge and as much stylistic audacity as the author’s well-received novels…Though fans of the author’s fiction will find illumination, a memoir this compelling and entertaining—one that frequently collapses the distinction between comedy and tragedy—should expand his readership beyond those who have loved his novels.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, January 2014
  • A Library Journal Bestseller
  • An AudioFile Best Audiobook of the Year for 2014
  • A BookPage Best Book of 2014
  • A 2014 New York Times Notable Book
  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014
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About the Author
Author Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the US seven years later. His debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His second novel, Absurdistan, was named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review and a best book of the year by Time, the Washington Post Book World, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and many others. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Esquire, GQ, the New Yorker, and Travel + Leisure. He currently lives in New York City.