Wednesday, September 24, 2014
 
Follow sptimesonline on Facebook Follow sptimesonline on Twitter Follow sptimesonline on RSS
MOST READ



PARTNER NEWS



BLOGS



OPINION



WHERE TO GO?

The Romanovs in St. Petersburg

History of St. Petersburg Museum

Small Tragedy, Fatal Passion

Rimsky-Korsakov Apartment Museum

 

  Print this article Print this article

Shteyngart's Memoir Personifies Russian Immigrant Experience in U.S.

Published: May 6, 2014 (Issue # 1808)



  • Russian-American writer Gary Shteyngart gets in touch with his roots.
    Photo: Random House

Fans of writer Gary Shteyngart might have been scratching their heads in confusion upon hearing of the release of his memoir "Little Failure." The previous three novels of the wildly-popular author have been so blatantly based on his own life hilariously self-deprecating tales of larger-than-life characters who grapple with family problems, sexual obsession and the culture clash experienced by immigrants in a new land that it may seem like a memoir is unnecessary. But the latest Shteyngart outing is arguably his best work to date.

Shteyngart tells us that "coming to America after a childhood spent in the Soviet Union is equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor." This is one of the primary themes of the memoir the sense of dislocation experienced by immigrants, fiercely struggling to fit into their new, alien environment, but tortured by memories of the land they left behind.

His family was part of a fascinating and little-known part of Soviet history. Shteyngart's story reveals the hardships faced by Russian Jews who were permitted to leave the Soviet Union in the 1970s, ostensibly to emigrate to Israel, but many chose the U.S. or European countries as their final destination. Global Jewish Advocacy estimates that there are about 700,000 Russian-speaking Jews in the U.S. and the majority live in New York, especially in areas such as Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and Forest Hills in Queens.

Though Shteyngart's family is not overtly religious despite being pressured into circumcising Gary, a traumatic incident related in the book the memoir offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Soviet Jews, as they assimilated into American society. As Shteyngart described "We Soviet Jews were simply invited to the wrong party. And then we were too frightened to leave. Because we didn't know who we were."

Refusing to follow a dull chronological order, the memoir drifts back and forth between Shteyngart's childhood in Leningrad he emigrated to the U.S. in 1979 and the glittering world of 1980s America. The starring roles in Shteyngart's energetic, though sometimes rambling, story, are his parents. It is fascinating to learn about the obvious impact they had on his development. Somewhat different from the usual "suffocating Jewish parents" stereotype, they at times treat their son quite cruelly and seem perpetually disappointed in him. Suffering from asthma as a child, they resorted to holding his mouth open with a spoon to help him breathe at night, before they discovered the wonders of an inhaler upon arriving in the West. His father nicknamed him "Snotty," his mother, "Failurchka."

Pages: [1] [2]






 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 24


AmChams Human Resources Committee meets this morning to discuss Labor Market Trends in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.



Thursday, Sept. 25


Learn more about tax controls on prices at AmChams Taxation Committee Round Table Meeting this morning at 9 a.m. Vladimir I Golishevsky, Acting Head of the Transfer Pricing Department of the Federal Tax Service of Russia, will be in attendance to discuss amendments to the Russian Tax Code. Register in advance if you wish to attend by emailing all@spb.amcham.ru.


Today is the last day to check out Inventing Everyday Life. Part III: Street exhibition one of Manifestas parallel programs on at 36 Morisa Toreza Prospekt until 8 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 26


Feel yourself Spanish for a little bit at Spain Day, a celebration of all things Iberian this evening at the Derzhavin Mansion in the city center. Speak Spanish during the open classes, practice your footwork on the dance floor to the sounds of flamenco music or chow down on paella while learning more about the countrys culture.



Saturday, Sept. 27


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg welcomes Vityaz from the Moscow region this afternoon at 5 p.m. in a Western Conference showdown. Tickets are still available to the match and can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena or in their merchandise shop on Nevsky Prospekt.


Let Biblioteka restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt teach your children how to be proper gentlemen and ladies during Etiquette for Children, a class for children five to 11 years of age that promises to help them become the cream of society. The class starts at 5 p.m. and costs 600 rubles ($15.60). Call 322 2526 to reserve a spot for your child.



Sunday, Sept. 28


For something different, head to the African Pride Event being held by Nicks Walkabout Tours, who have also helped bring African tribal leaders for the celebration. Check Vkontakte for more information.



Monday, Sept. 29


Experience Baltic culture through the medium of drama during the Baltic House Theater Festival, which starts on Sept. 25 and continues through Oct. 13. Not only are some of the regions most famous dramatic works planned for production but the event acts as a creative laboratory for a future generation of dramatists. Check the events website for more details about the festival.



Tuesday, Sept. 30


Local neo-pagans invite all worshipers to the dedication of a new Heart Tree in Sosnovka Park, Gods Wood. 4 p.m.


The second MIFIC Expo begins today at Lenexpo, providing an interactive platform for industry experts and manufacturers. Accessories, surfaces and interior decoration materials are just some of the things that will be available for perusal at the expo, which runs through Oct. 2.



Times Talk