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Gary Shteyngart: Little Failure


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As a Russian immigrant to the United States in the late 1970s, Gary Shteyngart (formerly Igor Steinhorn – his family name was mangled by Soviet bureaucracy and he changed Igor to Gary so he wouldn’t get beaten up so much) inspired so little confidence in his mother that he would ever amount to anything, she gave him the nickname ‘Failurchka’, or ‘Little Failure’.

Despite this prediction, her son went on to become the international bestselling author of novels such as Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story. His latest book, Little Failure, is a memoir of his life growing up as a child of Soviet Russia, suddenly transplanted to the brash and bustling shores of America, the land of orthodontics, happiness and 69 cent hamburgers.

Describing the experience as being like ‘stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor,’ the Little Failure struggled for years to balance his new American aspirations with his dour Soviet home life, always wondering how he could fit into either.

Gary Shteyngart runs Emerging Writers’ Festival director Sam Twyford-Moore through the hilarious twists and turns of his own personal Cold War and explains how one little failure turned out to be a huge success.


Sam Twyford-Moore

Sam Twyford-Moore is a writer and the founding host of The Rereaders, a fortnightly literary and cultural podcast. From 2012 until 2015, he was the Festival Director and CEO of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, during which time he directed three Melbourne-based festivals, launched the Digital Writ... Read more

Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and moved to the US with his family seven years later. He is the author of two previous novels: The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, named one of the best debuts of the year by the Guardian, and the bestselling Absurdistan. His work has appeared in the Ne... Read more


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