Gary Shteyngart Lights Up Charter Oak

Gary Shteyngart reads from Little Failure at Charter Oak Cultural Center, February 25, 2016

Sasha Senderovich pressed for Gary Shteyngart to “blurb” on the spot about the Republican candidates. After a few false starts, the award-winning author instead gave us something he tweeted earlier in the day: “Hartford, the Paris of Connecticut.”

This seemingly lavish praise was followed by Shteyngart’s rimshot: he has seen the rest of Connecticut.

Gary Shteyngart, the author of multiple books including Absurdistan, was at Charter Oak Cultural Center on Thursday night to chat, take questions, and read from his latest, Little Failure. If you entered the sanctuary without knowing what was going on, you might have thought this was a comedy act instead of a book signing.

The author talked about the boom of Immigrant Literature in the 1990s, a phenomenon that he has contributed to and benefited from. He also puzzles over this given the American reader’s distaste for foreign, translated works.

For his career, he credits his asthma and having a grandmother who was a writer. How serious was he? Who can tell?

He also credited a teacher who provided him with the encouragement to write. She had him read his writing to classmates every day, for a time.

Often, Thursday’s reading felt like Senderovich and Shteyngart were having their own private conversation, riffing on Russian folk medicine, like cupping, and joking about the possibility of an Eastern Bloc theme park. Coming to the United States from Russia in 1979, Shteyngart‘s humor jumps from dark to satirical to self-deprecating. The moment, he said, that he “stopped feeling like an outsider” was when he began to embrace trips to the mall and buy two-ply toilet paper in bulk.

Being a satirist, the author spoke about the need to hit a sweet spot. Donald Trump, he said, is “beyond satirism,” as the aspiring politician is already a caricature of himself.

This free event was part of Charter Oak Cultural Center’s 11th annual Celebration of Jewish Arts and Culture. It was made possible through a collaboration with UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, but the event was open to the general public. This was the first such partnership between the university and cultural center; the next one will be a performance by the Guy Mendilow Ensemble in April.

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