A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir

A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir

Elena Gorokhova

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 1439125686

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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looked as if Nina and I had personally insulted her by sitting down at her table, tossed down a ten-page menu, only to announce that they had nothing but beef stroganoff. It was stringy, lukewarm, and expensive, and we swore never to go to a restaurant again. It was not a sincere promise; we both knew there were other, more exclusive places that actually had food, places guarded by unflappable doormen towering pompously in front of “no seats available” signs. “So, can we meet?” asks Boris, notes

and poured into chipped glasses, a syrupy red called Khvanchkara that the oily waiter proudly announces was the favorite wine of Stalin. For a minute, he stands over our table, as if waiting to be invited to salute our former leader, as if he doesn’t see that Boris frowns and stares at something stuck to the bottom of a glass, collecting thoughts for an important statement. When the waiter finally departs, Boris plants his elbows on the table and leans toward me. “Whatever you may think of me,”

Brooklyn. I am the one now who worries about scarves and schools, soup and order. I am the one expected to protect and control. In my head, pictures of the perfect life grow like our dacha strawberries, in model rows. I want my daughter to speak Russian, to read Turgenev, to memorize Pushkin’s verse the same way we memorized it in school. I want her to love theater and spend nights in the kitchen pontificating about personal happiness and the meaning of life. I want to infect her with the germ

mother didn’t bring her bathing suit to Stankovo, so she goes swimming in her white bra and pink underpants. Marina licks plates. Most important, they both yell, at me and at each other, which automatically disqualifies them from the intelligentny category. But do you have to be intelligentny yourself in order to decide if others are? Am I intelligentny? I watch the sun heave toward the jagged line of forest on the other bank of the river. My uncle tests the water with his foot and a shiver

it’s hard to understand why at fifteen he would even bother thinking about such an impossible thing. “I’m saving to buy a car,” he says. That’s funny, the notion of being able to save enough in one’s lifetime to buy a car. I chuckle, but Kevin’s eyebrows mash together in a frown. Now I need to explain that I’m not laughing at him for saving money to buy a car. I’m laughing because I think of a joke my sister told me. Even in Russian telling a joke is tricky, and I pull all my linguistic

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