I have just finished reading Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart and I am a bit undone…or unhinged…or un…something. I feel as though a large chunk of the universe has dropped down from dizzying heights and obliterated much of what I thought I once understood about what it means to have an opinion about others…or about the lineage of history…or about how it is carried on any one human’s back. What I mean to say is – I suddenly understand, with blinding clarity, that what I thought I knew, has come from a deeply limited point of view. After reading this (I’m searching for a verb here, a verb worthy enough to represent how good this book is, how necessary it is that people read this…) powerful and insightful and expansive book, I’ve been given a new lens upon which to reflect many things – the single most important, being, humanity, and/or it’s lack thereof.More than any other element that this book does with exceptional skill (and there are many skillful elements to this book: the humor, the self-deprecation, the weaving of world history and personal history…) – this book illuminates the scope of what it means to be a part of something bigger/larger than you, something that defines you (whether you want it to or not) and locks you into a specific location, or expectation, no matter what you do. You are defined by this “tag.” In the case of this memoir – the tag being: an Immigrant plunked down in New York City, in the early 1980’s, as a Russian American Jew – a person that suddenly resides between two worlds, accepted by neither; shunned by both.
There is so much LIFE in this book: often times brutal, many times ugly, ridiculously and exquisitely funny!, again and again squeamish; there is self-loathing en masse!, there is enormous self-pity (rightfully so, but still – self pity is a tough animal to deal with, over and over and over again…) – and with all of this, there is also incredible, beautiful, painful, illuminating, tender, and wise insights into the act of living through one’s own history – whether or not you are, or you were, responsible for that history. We carry our history in our cells, in our blood, in our stories, in our breath – and unfortunately, it is not something we ever get to choose. It is chosen for us, by our parents, and the parents before them, and the parents before them, and so on, and on and on…
For me, what leaps off the pages of this book as the single most important lesson, and gift (to ourselves, and to our lineage) for any one human being, is this: to learn to forgive the sins and transgressions of those who have come before us. Even when those sins are committed at the hand of those we love…who have shaped our very form (cells, blood, skin, bone, thoughts, actions, deeds, etc.). Until we make this pilgrimage, we will remain but a child, acting out with childish fears, childish thoughts, and childish endeavors. To learn to accept that so much of what happens in this world is beyond our ability to control…to accept that our parents’ too were shaped by the parents before them, et al… is to understand that once you start pointing the finger, the pointing can never stop. We are all complicit, by the very fact that we live.
I urge you to read this book. It will make you laugh out loud. It will challenge, and broaden your understanding of child rearing. It will provide an inside look into an experience that so many in our country – the United States of America, must undergo on a daily basis, as immigrants searching for a better life within our borders. It will expand your understanding of humanity. And that is why books – great books! – are written.