NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

Illustration by ALEX FINE


Novelist Gary Shteyngart was a wheezing, asthmatic and fearful 7-year-old when he and his parents emigrated from the Soviet Union to Queens, New York, in 1979. (This was soon after America negotiated a trade deal with the Soviets that included allowing Jews to immigrate to Israel, Canada or the U. S.) He tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that his health was a deciding factor in his parents’ decision to move. “When I was growing up, the ambulance would come almost every week to take me to the hospital because there were no other treatments for asthma,” he says. “[My mother] really made this calculation of whether to leave her family behind and have me grow up fairly healthy, or stay with them and have me grow up an invalid, and … she decided to go to America.” Still, the relocation meant little Shteyngart was suddenly living in the country he had been taught was the enemy. His parents, who had been prevented from practicing Judaism in the Soviet Union, sent Shteyngart to a Hebrew school in Queens, where he felt lost and despised. As he slowly became more American, the distance between him and his parents seemed to grow. Eventually, girls, booze and 12 years of four-times-a-week psychoanalysis also entered the picture. But writing was always a constant, dating back to when he was 5 and wrote a 100-page comic novel. Shteyngart draws from his life story in satirical novels like Russian Debutante’s Handbook, and . His new memoir is called Little Failure. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A With Gary Shteyngart
PREVIOUSLY: Super Sad True Love Story Review