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A Mountain of Crumbs: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain Paperback – 19 Aug 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (19 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099537648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099537649
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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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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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Format: Paperback
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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This is a good book, interesting and generally well written. It tells of the life of the author growing up in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in the 1960s and 70s. Stalin has not long died and Khrushchev is now the leader of the Soviet Union, so random arrests and executions have ceased but all the other elements of state Communism are still in place.
The early chapters dealing with the very early childhood of the author and the family holidays in a dacha on the Gulf of Finland are, perhaps, the least successful. The writing is a little confused and ‘bumpy’ but as the book progresses so the style becomes much more accomplished and the story more interesting. The book contains a lot about the thoughts and anxieties of a little girl, then teenager and young woman growing up. We read of her first ‘crushes’ and experiences with boys, stories that might apply to young girls anywhere. It is not simply an expose of life in the Soviet Union.
The book puts over the concept of ‘vranyo’ where the speaker makes a required statement that she knows not to be true, and the listener also knows the statement not to be true, but it is a required by the state and these routine observances have to be made in all situations and walks of life if trouble is to be avoided. The lack of goods, things perpetually not working properly, overweening bureaucracy, the mystery of what goes on outside the USSR, all these everyday elements occur naturally in the story so that it has a very ‘light-touch’ and is never a polemic. There is also much about Russian food.
As the author is an English language student (and guide) we have interesting comments on the differences in ‘feel’ or ‘mood’ between the Russian and English languages, English surprisingly appearing by far the most excitable in the view of the author.
This is a good book, quite lyrical at times, and interesting on a number of levels. One wonders what a cultured Russian woman made of life in Texas.
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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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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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This one of the best books I have read for a long time. The writing style flows but there is still enough of a Russian flavour to bring the feeling of what it was like to grow up in Stalin's Russia. Elena Gorokhova has a phenomenal memory for the detail of not just what was happening around her but for her feelings and I for one felt as if I knew her and her family and her situation so keenly that it was as if I was receiving a personal letter!

I recommend this book to anybody with a heart and an interest in the Russian people and the situation they were forced to accept in post WW2 Russia under Stalin. We are very lucky to have been born in the west!

A rare glimpse into a tough and deprived world we hardly knew about but written with humour.

Trish Niblock
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