Arts & Culture

Gary Shteyngart Talks ‘Little Failure’

Life and times of Gary Shteyngart Read More

By / January 7, 2014









Author Gary Shteyngart recently debuted his first ever book trailer for his first memoir, Little Failure. The memoir, which is said to be one of Shteyngart’s most raw pieces of writing, takes a long, hard glance back at his intense childhood as a son of two Russian immigrants who fled the Soviet union for Queens. It’s a story of assimilation, but also of one of Gary coming to terms with his family hierarchy, their expectations, and his constant tango between life as a Russian and as an American.

His self-deprecating prose, which is as vivid as ever, captures the existential woes of adolescent misadventure, becoming a writer, and dealing with the love/hate torture parents can inflict on their children.

Shteyngart recently sat down with Interview Magazine for a thorough conversation about his book writing process, being a Hebrew school bully, and of course, Russia.

On the writing process of a memoir:

“Yeah, it was very intense. But the memoirs I love are all very intense. If you’re going to do a memoir and protect yourself, what the hell’s the point? Just do fiction.”

On whether to blame the time and place or his parents:

“Right. But the thing is, I’ve been in psychoanalysis for a long time. And really the big question of analysis is simple. A lot of it is obviously about my parents, and that question is: How much of it was them? How much of it was the Soviet Union, and how much was family, how much was society?”

The exact proportions:

“Forty percent Stalin, 30 percent Hitler, and 30 percent everyone else. [laughs] Their anxiety was palpable, obviously. It was the way I was raised—scared of everything.”

On embarking on his book tour:

“Now they know everything (his readers). And this time I have to read from my actual freaking life. I expect some angry Russians, obviously. I love these tours. I was in San Francisco, and a woman gets up—she’s Russian—she’s very angry at me and says, “Do you know you are writing this, but do you also know they are killing Jews at San Francisco State University?” I think I came up with a quick rejoinder, like, “Oh, where do I get in on that?” Or something like that. Then she said, “You know, I have a very lovely daughter in Los Angeles. You should meet her if you’re going there next.” I think I said, “But they’re killing Jews at UCLA!” So I imagine some angry Russians will show up.”

On being a Hebrew school bully:

“I was a jackass in many ways. I projected that cruelty towards others, that kid whose hand I was wringing. If I could have hurt a hundred weaklings—weaker than me, and I was already very weak—I would. I was dying to hurt somebody, to pay it forward, you know? Even writing that, I felt very sad about it. It just rolls downhill. It’s a cliché, but the shit rolls downhill.”

(Photo by Getty)