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Comic Novelist Gary Shteyngart to Speak at the College

Posted on 6 January 2014 | 8:30 am

Award-winning and best-selling comic novelist Gary Shteyngart will visit the College of Charleston on Friday, January 10, 2013. Shteyngart will discuss and sign copies of his new memoir, Little Failure, which will be released by Random House earlier in the week.  “A Conversation With Gary Shteyngart” will be held in Wells Fargo Auditorium in the Beatty Center (5 Liberty Street) from 2:30-4:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Shteyngart Book“Gary Shteyngart is one of the best-known and most accomplished contemporary American novelists,” said Larry Krasnoff, associate director of the College’s Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program. “And he is certainly among the very funniest. His work draws especially on the tradition of Jewish-American fiction, returning that tradition to its roots in the immigrant experience, while continuing to expand the comedy that has been so central to post-immigrant writers like Richler, Heller, and Roth.”

[Related: Read Krasnoff's review of Little Failure printed in The Post and Courier.]

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972, and emigrated with his parents to New York City at the age of seven. A graduate of Oberlin College, Shteyngart is the author of three commercially and critically successful novels: The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2003), Absurdistan (2007), and Super Sad True Love Story (2010). The first was honored with the National Jewish Book Award for fiction, while the second was honored a best book of the year by the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other publications. He was selected as one the best young novelists by the New Yorker and Granta.

Shteyngart’s comic novels feature Russian Jewish immigrants to the United States who find themselves stranded between East and West: too formerly Soviet to count as comfortably American, and too liberal and American and Jewish to count as fully Russian. Shteyngart uses his scheming yet hapless protagonists’ desperate attempts to fit in to satirize various aspects of our culture and politics:  young Americans and Russian mobsters eager to visit Prague immediately after the collapse of communism (The Russian Debutante’s Handbook), corrupt American military and political adventures in equally corrupt oil-rich lands (Absurdistan), and the dominance of social media over the rest of culture (Super Sad True Love Story). In his new memoir, Shteyngart concentrates on his youthful experience as a Russian immigrant to New York, and his overwhelming fear that he will never be able to experience the ease that his American peers seem to enjoy or the success his parents expect of him – but also suspect he will never achieve.

College of Charleston Philosophy Professor Jennifer Baker studied abroad with Shetyngart in Prague in 1994. She’s taught his work in her Philosophy 101 because he offers a kind of solution to the problem of life being (at least a bit) absurd. She says, “His stories highlight this absurdity and that helps prepare us for it. But he also offers a kind of remedy, a way to get on despite all the disappointments and indignities that are inevitable. I think it would be especially interesting to our students as he focuses so much on the transition from a high school identity to a college identity developed at Oberlin College.”

[Related: Read more about Jennifer Baker in College of Charleston Magazine.]

The Shteyngart event is sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Department of English, Crazyhorse, the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs, the Initiative for Public Choice and Market Process, the Department of Political Science, the Office for the Academic Experience, and the First-Year Experience.

Prior to the campus event, Shteyngart will read from and sign copies of his memoir at the Charleston Library Society (164 King Street) starting at noon. Admission to the earlier event is free to students with ID; others can purchase tickets at http://shteyngart.bpt.me.

For more information, contact Larry Krasnoff at krasnoff@cofc.edu.

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