James Franco and Gary Shteyngart star in book trailer for Little Failure

James Franco and Gary Shteyngart star in book trailer for Little Failure
Still from the trailer for Little Failure (2014)

8 January 2014

Award-winning American writer Gary Shteyngart has released a moving and comic memoir about his childhood in the USSR and move to the US in 1979, when he was just seven years old. The memoir, titled Little Failure after his parents’ affectionate nickname for him, is a poignant and anecdote-filled account of the immigrant experience. In the book, he recalls his parents’ frugality, which meant trips to McDonald’s were made for the free napkins and straws rather than the 69-cent hamburgers.

In a hilarious trailer for the film, Shteyngart announces the publication of his new book only to discover that his husband, played by James Franco, is planning to release his own book — Fifty Shades of Gary— one week earlier. Shteyngart similarly released a trailer starring Franco for his 2010 novel, Super Sad True Love Story, a futuristic meditation on love, loss and mortality that picked up the 2011 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic literature.

In Little Failure, Shteyngart recounts the profound sense of dislocation he felt when his family emigrated from Leningrad (now St Petersburg) to New York. His birth name Igor was changed to Gary because the former evoked Frankinstein’s assistant. “Back then, kids hated anything Russian and there I was wearing a big fur hat that looked like it was made out of some woodland animal,” he told the New York Daily News. “I was this Russian dork.”

Shteyngart’s debut book The Russian Debutante’s Handbook published in 2002 similarly told the story of a Russian emigre and was named by The Guardian as one of the best first novels of the year. Absurdistan, his 2006 follow-up, was likewise named book of the year by The New York Times, Time, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and numerous other publications. In 2010, The New Yorker listed him as one of their top 20 writers under 40.