Tuesday, April 5, 2011
REVIEW: A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova
A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova. Published 2010 by Simon & Schuster. Hardcover.
A Mountain of Crumbs is Elena Gorokhova's memoir about growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, covering the period from her early childhood, when she'd pick mushrooms in the forest with her mother and play with her sister Maria, to her early adulthood and her move to the United States with her first husband. It's a wonderful book.
Though beautiful in many places, Gorokhova's life is certainly far from idyllic. Her mother, a doctor, is a strong but difficult woman; her father dies young. Life in Leningrad is hard and privations are many. A bright girl, Gorokhova tries to follow the rules and make a life for herself; learning English is what finally gives her a way out. In the meantime she grows up, tries to fit in socially and in the world of work and keep her head down. But in the end she decides she has to leave or suffocate.
I loved this book. Gorokhova is a talented writer and the book reads beautifully. She writes with tenderness about her family and her struggles growing up. Her sister's story is fascinating in and of itself; a beautiful, charismatic girl who decides to buck her mother's wishes and become an actress, her rebellion plants a seed in her sister Elena. Gorokhova has a great eye for detail and picks out telling anecdotes and miniature story arcs that pull the narrative along smoothly. I love how the tone changes subtly as little Elena ages; early passages from her childhood have a more naive tone that shifts little by little as Gorokhova grows up.
I think A Mountain of Crumbs would appeal to a lot of readers. It's a great story, first and foremost, and people who enjoy memoirs generally would like it, as well as readers interested in the time and place. Gorokhova has a lot to tell us about a world that was pretty closed off to the West, a lot about everyday life and ordinary people in a place that doesn't really exist anymore, with the bonus of a very happy ending. It was a privilege for me to peek into her world, if only for a little while. I hope you get a chance to look, too.
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FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.