A Mountain of Crumbs (Paperback)

A Memoir

By Elena Gorokhova

Simon & Schuster, 9781439125687, 336pp.

Publication Date: February 8, 2011

List Price: 16.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

January 2010 Indie Next List

“Elena Gorokhova's A Mountain of Crumbs offers a view of the locked-in nature of daily life in 1960s Leningrad, beginning even in nursery school. Gorokhova's precise language and her word photos are impressive. I loved this book.”
— Carla Cohen, Politics & Prose Books &, Washington, DC
View the List

Description

Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a Soviet girl who discovers the truths adults are hiding from her and the lies her homeland lives by.

Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena 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 is controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, a mirror image of her motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. In the battle between a strong-willed daughter and her authoritarian mother, the daughter, in the end, must break free and leave in order to survive.

Through Elena’s captivating voice, we learn not only the stories of Russian family life in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose curiosity and determination finally transport her to a new world. It is an elegy to the lost country of childhood, where those who leave can never return.


Praise For A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir

"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

" An instant classic...[A] deeply affecting memoir . . . recalled with spare, lyrical beauty and wry humor.”
—Carmela Ciuraru, More

“A smart, spirited tale about growing up in the colorless Soviet Union of the 1960s.”
People

“Elena Gorokhova doesn't use broad strokes to paint a picture of daily life in Brezhnev-era Soviet Union. Vivid memories . . . brightly dot the harsh, gray background of everyday life in Gorokhova's native Leningrad. . . . Her spare lyricism delicately captures a vanished world.”
— Korina Lopez, USA Today

“[L]eavened with wistful humor . . . This memoir offers valuable insight into those bleak years bracketed by Khrushchev and Afghanistan . . . [R]endered with sharp detail . . . Gorokhova is attuned to the inherent absurdities of a society that, while aspiring to a supposedly common ideal  . . . cannot care for its citizens on the most rudimentary level.”
—Alexander Nazaryan, Christian Science Monitor

“Gorokhova’s engaging, beautifully written memoir depicts her childhood in 1960s Leningrad and her restless dissatisfaction with life behind the Iron Curtain.”
—Donna Marchetti, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“[A Mountain of Crumbs is] as sweet and earthy as sugar and brown bread. It's a mesmerizing story of an intelligent, adventurous, curious girl and a country with a rich past and lumbering social constraints, both finding the way to a new future.”
—Peggy McMullen, The Oregonian

“Endearing, a collection of well-sculptured memories . . . Lovely . . . Evocative . . . A minor-key coming-of-age story.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Gorokhova has the reader in the palms of her hands. . . . Stellar . . . This compelling and unusual tale . . . is inherently captivating.”
—Christine Thomas, The Miami Herald


“[A] witty, illuminating book . . . with telling detail, and a winning balance of affection, insight and satiric bite.”
—Misha Berson, The Seattle Times

“Elena Gorokhova reveals with beautiful writing the panic of growing up inside the secrecy of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. . . . Even if Elena Gorokhova weren’t such a gorgeous writer, her memoir, “A Mountain of Crumbs,” would be a terrific read. . . . She writes with irony and subtlety about the “bright future” of the Soviet Union, even as she plans her exodus. What makes this book so remarkable, though, is Gorokhova’s evocative and sensuous writing.”
—Laurie Hertzel, The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

“A moving memoir about one woman’s journey from the Soviet Union . . . Captivating.”

“Artful memoir about the angst and joys of growing up behind the Iron Curtain. . . . Articulate, touching and hopeful.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Extraordinarily rich in sensory and emotional detail . . . An engrossing portrait of a very lively, intelligent girl coming of emotional and intellectual age in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union.”
Bookpage

“Wry . . . both comic and anguished . . . but never cold or simple.”
Booklist

“Three pages into this beautifully crafted memoir and you know that Gorokhova has always been a writer. . . . the kind that envelops and transports you and every so often leaves you breathless. . . . Recounted in shimmering detail.”

—Bill Ervolino, The Bergen Record (New Jersey)

Gorokhova has the reader in the palms of her hands. . . . Stellar . . . This compelling and unusual tale . . . is inherently captivating.”
—Christine Thomas, The Miami Herald

“Exquisitely lyrical . . . Every page of Elena Gorokhova s coming-of-age-in-the-Soviet-bloc memoir unveils the magic of her origins. . . . Stunning.”
—Anne Grant, Providence Journal-Bulletin (RI)

“A dream ride . . . A delight . . . with pitch-perfect lyricism, tremendous power of recall, and disarming wit.”
—Kapka Kassabova, The Guardian (UK)

A Mountain of Crumbs is . . . a stunning memoir: subtle, yet brimming with depth and detail.”
—Viv Groskop, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Brims with an elegiac emotion and sensuality which even Turgenev, in his own European exile, might have envied.”
—Charlotte Hobson, The Spectator (UK)

“Remarkable . . . beautiful and evocative and worth your attention.”
—Nathan Thornburgh, DadWagon.com

“Her richly detailed story explores the reality of her politically subversive passions for language and freedom in a fearful, failing society that distrusted its citizens and repressed individuality.”
Saga (UK)

“Gorokhova is a lush and beautiful writer. Her tidy, witty descriptions of characters keep the book moving along at a good clip . . . the rich political milieu of the former Soviet Union sets this book apart. You really do get the feeling of what it smelled, tasted and felt like to grow up in that particular place and time.
— Ellen Silva, senior editor, NPR’s All Things Considered

“An exquisitely moving memoir detailing Gorokhova’s experiences of growing up behind the Iron Curtain. Her story of oppression and hope is described in distinctive poetical prose.”
Marie Claire (UK)

“Despite the specificity of the memoir, the themes and characters have universality - a domineering mother, a rebellious child, finding passion and beauty in surprising places. A celebration of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and oppression.”
Easy Living (UK)

“Combining Gorokhova’s fantastic eye for an image with her acute sense for the absurd, A Mountain of Crumbs elegantly dramatizes the bewildering chasm between the projected, glittering idealism of the Soviet Union and its drab, quotidian reality.”
—Claire Allfree, Metro (UK)

“In this gently delightful memoir, Elena Gorokhova recounts her coming of age in Russia during 1960s and 1970s . . . There’s a wonderful cozy intimacy to her writing; her use of the present tense keeps it fresh and unburdened . . . I loved reading A Mountain of Crumbs. Gorokhova is a fine writer with a delicate, sensitive touch, whose voice in nonetheless fearless and clarion. I hope there’s a sequel. After coming of age comes surely that other great memoir, coming to America.”

—Wendell Steavenson, The Sunday Times (UK)

“It takes talent to write a good memoir and Gorokhova has more than most. Fascinating anecdotes show us her mother’s youth, and her own recollections spring to life with an artist’s eye for those details that can conjure a mood or a moment. The privations, oppressions and joys are all described with shining curiosity in this captivating book.”
Waterstone’s Books Quarterly