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A Mountain of Crumbs: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain [Paperback]

Elena Gorokhova
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Aug 2010

A Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a young Soviet girl's discovery of the hidden truths of adulthood and her country's profound political deception.

Elena, born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, finds her passion in the complexity of the English language - but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s, such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena's home is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars. Instead, it is a nation humiliated by its first faltering steps after World War II, putting up appearances for the sake of its regime and fighting to retain its pride.

In this deeply affecting memoir, Elena re-creates the world that both oppressed and inspired her. She recounts stories passed down to her about the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution and probes the daily deprivations and small joys of her family's bunkerlike existence. Through Elena's captivating voice, we learn not only the personal story of Russia in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose love of a foreign language finally transports her to a new world.

'This moving memoir made me cry'

The New York Times

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (19 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099537648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099537649
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"This is a rich experience - a personal journey paralleled by huge national changes and ending in a deeply satisfying portrait of peace in America" (Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes)

"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. An enthralling read" (J.M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature)

"In the spirit of Dostoyevsky, it is 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)

"A Mountain of Crumbs is an exquisitely wrought, tender memoir of growing up in the Soviet Union . . . Gorokhova writes about her life with a novelist's gift for threading motives around the heart of a story, following it's plot with a light touch and unwavering honesty." (The New York Times)

"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 US Poet Laureate)

Book Description

A mesmerising memoir of a childhood in Soviet Russia

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and very entertaining 14 Dec 2010
Format:Kindle Edition
This book describes the author's life whilst growing up as a slightly rebellious teenager in Soviet Russia in the 1960s. It's extremely well written, very funny in places and an excellent way to learn about life in cold war Russia. Some of the scenes (such as the restaurant with the 20 page menu but only beef stroganoff available) remind me of (quite recent) travels in Eastern Europe. These comic moments are skillfully interspersed with tales of true hardship and poverty.

The author is to be congratulated for writing a book set in this era which is neither anti-capitalist nor anti-communist: it reads as an honest report of how life was, and about her perceptions of the West, without making any moral judgements about the relative merits of each system.

This book has made me want to read Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov and the other "subversive" Russian writers she mentions (and to visit Russia!).
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Parallel 9 Sep 2010
I'm married to a Russian woman who was brought up in St Petersberg at roughly the same period. The book rings very true.

It's interesting to compare the time it takes for this Russian woman to start questioning the tenets of communist orthodoxy and how long it seemed to take the Chinese. In "Wild Swans" the author seems to have swallowed the message whole until well past adolescence, whereas here there is a healthy dose of doubt from an early age.

A useful book, I think, which offsets the extraordinary ignorance of British reviewers as to the mind set of the Russian people.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mountain of Crumbs 10 April 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book follows Elena Gorokova as she grown up in post-Stalinist Russia, and describes the way of life in this closed, paranoid, Communist society.

Gorokova produces what seems to be a honest picture of her life behind the iron curtain, her family and the after-effects of living under Stalin. Things that seem far away now are brought closer by her intimate descriptions - Like her father losing his teeth because of starvation, and her Soviet mother's stranglehold on her daughters.

I found I instantly warmed to the narrating voice in this book. Gorokova writes in a sensitive, feminine, descriptive way which feels natural and honest. At times this book is dry and humorous, other times melancholy, but it is always interesting and enlighteing. I have read a lot about the Soviet Union and Russia, but never come across this kind of perspective - Female, and written post-emigration to the United States, with all the hinsight and wisdom that brings.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this one - brilliant! 24 May 2011
By Hils T
The author records what it was like growing up in the Soviet Union by recounting snap shot images of a life heavily influenced by the past and by the strictures of the Communist system. In this conformist society, she highlights the ridiculous with wit and humour. From early childhood she is aware of pretending to follow the system. (it would be interesting to know whether this awareness of "vranyo" (pretending) comes with hindsight or whether she was really conscious of it at the time.) This is a life running parallel to my own but in a completely different society and political system and perhaps that is one reason why I found it such a fascinating and compelling read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful prose 7 Oct 2010
A brilliant and sometimes heartbreaking account of life in Russia. Although Stalin had gone the state pretended to believe that Communism was succesful. The author's understatement makes for a powerful critique of the creaking totalitarian state.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Germangeoff 30 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For the most part I enjoyed this. Although it becomes evident she escapes from Russia from the photos, the book concentrates purely on events in Russia. The early stuff about grandparents and parents is very strong, on life for a typical WW2 generation. Her own early years are very well explained and gives a good flavour of the realities. It spoilt for me because I wanted to get to the bit about escaping to the west and events there. So I found the later years, coming of age stuff - still well told - to be heavy going in parts before it dawned on me leaving Russia was not going to as carefully covered. However, the book does its job well explaining what life was like for ordinary citizens and the `survival' strategy people adopt where everything is a lie, everyone knows its a lie but everyone pretends different because it was too dangerous not to. Hope there is Volume 2 about the early experiences in the West, if written up as well as this it would be very strong.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A time machine 28 Aug 2012
By Sasha
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This wonderful memoir took me back to my childhood during 60's-70's in a rural Russia's industrial city. Being brought up on "vranyo" and having an instinctive knowledge what and where one can say something. Having two stamp collections - one to share with friends and another, small one, to keep secret as it contained stamps from the West. Trying to make sense of words and sounds coming from the BBC and Voice of America, words and sounds which managed to get through radio jamming by the authorities. After that remembering to change the frequency before switching off the radio. Just in case... After we left (I was 13) my parents' friends lamented that they were "denying us a bright Soviet pioneer future". I am thankful to my parents for that. Elena, thanks for a yet another reminder.
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