Thursday, November 4, 2010

REVIEW: A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova

A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova. Published 2010 by Simon & Schuster. Memoir.

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 Marina, 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.

Part of Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza
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.

Rating: BUY

I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


ImageNations said...

I have not read any Russian author: from Nabokov to Dostoevsky... hence would add Gorokhova to it. thanks

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I keep hearing great things about this one. Can't wait to read it for myself!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like the perfect book for me - I love memoirs and the time and place the book is set.

Zibilee said...

I have read a little bit about this time period in Russia while reading Stalin's Children, and think that this book would be a really interesting way to fill in the gaps of what I already know.

If you are into fiction about Russia, I can recommend Moonlight in Odessa as a good read as well. It is about the Russian Mail order bride phenomenon.

If I can find my copy around here, I would be glad to send it to you!
Just pop me an email at zibilee(at)figearo(dot)net if you are interested, and I will look for it!

Zibilee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

From your review, this sounds wonderful.

Erin said...

This sounds wonderful! I love well-written memoirs. I'm adding it to my list as a World Party Reading Challenge candidate. Thanks!

Blodeuedd said...

I think I could enjoy this one. I am not a fan of biographies, but some I totally go for