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A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir Paperback – February 8, 2011
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"Elena Gorokhova has written the Russian equivalent of Angela's Ashes, an intimate story of growing up into young womanhood told with equal grace and humor." -- Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate
"What is it about A Mountain of Crumbs that makes it so damn readable? Is it the setting -- the Soviet Union in the second half of the last century on the verge of disintegration? Is it the author's way with the English language? This is a rich experience -- a personal journey paralleled by huge national changes and ending in a deeply satisfying portrait of peace in America. Those who have traveled from another place to America will find themselves in this rich memoir." -- Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes
"An honest, captivating story of a girl from a middle-class Soviet family, growing into a young woman, searching for her identity and unable to find it...In the spirit of Dostoyevsky, it is also an endlessly Russian quest for self-redemption...I advise you to read the book. It will give you pleasure." -- Sergei Khruschchev, son of former Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev
"The story of a young person of sparkling intelligence, full of curiosity about the world, struggling to grow and blossom under a duplicitous, censorious, and unremittingly mean-minded social system. Elena Gorokhova conveys all the ugliness of daily life in Soviet Russia, as well as its humiliations, but is awake to its strangled, submerged poetry too. An enthralling read." -- J. M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature and author of Summertime
“[An] exquisitely wrought, tender memoir of growing up in the Soviet Union. . . . A Mountain of Crumbs could be taught as a master class in memoir writing. . . Gorokhova writes about her life with a novelist’s gift for threading motives around the heart of a story . . . Each chapter distills a new revelation in poetic prose . . . This moving memoir made me cry . . . Powerful.”
—Elena Lappin, The New York Times Book Review
“A Mountain of Crumbs vividly, devastatingly conveys what it was like growing up in the shabby disillusion of the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union—and also swooningly indulges the nostalgia for place and landscape that’s seemingly steeped into every Russian soul. . . . Marvelous reminiscence.”
—Ben Dickinson, Elle
"Elena Gorokhova has written an endearing, sensitive story of her early years in the USSR. Her memoir is proof that the human spirit can triumph even in the most repressive of times." -- Edward Hower, author of The New Life Hotel and The Storms of May
"A Mountain of Crumbs is an extraordinary memoir. Elena Gorokhova's writing -- gorgeous and evocative -- is enriched by her connection to two languages, Russian and English. Brilliant and moving." -- Ursula Hegi, author of Stones from the River
"This is a diamond of a memoir. Elena Gorokhova captures the essence of a vanished world with a poet's eye, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey, where every detail transcends the commonplace and every page bears witness to the deepest longings of the human heart. This memoir offers a rare glimpse of life in the former Soviet Union, and also of the universal search for love and autonomy that binds us all together, regardless of time and place." -- Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana
"Almost painful in its authenticity, this hypnotically readable memoir has the sweep and power of a great Russian novel." -- Bruce Jay Friedman, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and author of A Father's Kisses and Stern
About the Author
Elena Gorokhova grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, although for most of her life it was known to her as Leningrad. At the age of twenty-four she married an American and came to the United States with only a twenty kilogram suitcase to start a new life. The bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs and Russian Tattoo, she has a Doctorate in Language Education and currently lives in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, on BBC Radio, and in a number of literary magazines.
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It has proved what I know about Russian, from 19th century and serfdom forward. The personal experience depicted
is interesting 'cause it reflects my own youth in another similar environment, post communist China in the 1980's.
And it's from a woman's perspective, through a family's not long ago history, only three generations. That suits my interest too. I can see
why it's confusing and dull to some readers who are not familiar with Soviet past and not being a woman growing up
with similar expereince. A come to age story as this book is, why should it be interesting to a man of stark different age and background?
For people who don't speak Russian the quoted Russian phrases in phonetics would be distracting too.
So if you're not into this book I totally understand why. But I like this book. It's a page turner and fun to read.
The author portrays that drab world with telling details of shortages and long lines for everything, a monotonous diet, and skilful fingers that cut up an old coat, turned it inside out and made it into `new' skirt. At an early age Elena Gorokhova came to despise the modus operandi of the communist world: "The game is called vranyo... We all pretend to do something, and those who watch us pretend that they are seriously watching us and don't know we are only pretending". Seduced by the "decadent sound of the English language", she developed a fierce desire to escape this repressive regime, and it was her fluency in English that eventually opened the door to the West for her.
I bought this memoir partly because a review suggested that it had much in common with my own recently published memoir. And there is indeed an astonishing overlap between this story, set in the post-war communist society of Leningrad, and my story of growing up in the pre-war working-class culture of Coin Street in London. It is as if Elena Gorokhova and I grew up in parallel universes, twenty years and thirteen hundred miles apart! We each had a fierce, much-married mother, suffered the early loss of a book-loving father, and had very limited resources throughout our childhoods. Finally, for both of us, the escape route out of our dreary, restrictive worlds was provided by education.
A great read! I strongly recommend this book to social historians and to anyone interested in how a child thinks and struggles to understand the world of adults--and learns how to deal with that world.