The Russian-American author discusses his new memoir — and how things could have been so very different for him
Bestselling author Garry Shteyngart came to TIME to talk about — among other things — his weird name. Shteyngart’s birth name is Igor, but as a schoolboy, the writer copped so much flak for having the same name as Frankenstein’s assistant that his parents changed it to Gary. That’s one of many things Shteyngart explains in his new memoir Little Failure; the book title is, incidentally, based on his mother’s pet name for him after he graduated college — a Russian-English smashup word Failurchka. (And you thought your parents were harsh.)
As it turns out, his real last name isn’t Shteyngart either, but something much more, um, alluring — as he reveals in the video above.
Apparently, changing little Igor’s name was one of the few things his parents agreed upon. Shteyngart says his parents spent his childhood talking about getting a divorce; they went on and on about it, right up until he left for college. That begs the question: was he the problem?