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Monday, January 13, 2014

A Literary Slide Show of Gary Shteyngart as a Young Boy

Posted by on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 2:18 PM

Ch4_-_Gary_and_ladder.jpg
(Gary Shteyngart reads tonight at Town Hall.)

You've never seen an author photo quite like this one. Every chapter of Gary Shteyngart's new memoir, Little Failure (Random House, $27), opens with a photograph of Shteyngart from the corresponding time period, but it's the picture from chapter four, "Moscow Square," that captures your imagination. Shteyngart—this was before his name was Americanized, so here he's still named Igor—is standing on a ladder and smiling at us. He's all ears and he's dressed in the style for Soviet boys of the time. And the caption reads:

To become a cosmonaut, the author must first conquer his fear of heights on a ladder his father has built for that purpose. He must also stop wearing a sailor outfit and tights.

In some ways, Little Failure feels like a heavily annotated slide show, with thousands of words of sheepish and self-conscious explanation buffering the photographs of Shteyngart wearing ghastly shirts, making awful hair decisions, and proudly showing off a gigantic digital watch that played tinny renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Russian song "Little Guelder Rose." But that description doesn't do justice to the quality of the prose...

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