Saturday 16 March 2013

A Mountain of Crumbs

Finished March 16
A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova

This memoir covers Elena Gorokhova's first twenty-four years, spent in Leningrad, and her family's history. There is a short epilogue about the present. Elena was the second daughter of her mother, with two older half-sisters, one on each side of the family. The oldest, the one on her father's side, is seldom mentioned here. Elena's mother is a strong personality and she had a strong influence on Elena's life and choices. She was a doctor, working near the front in the Russian-Finnish war and again during part of the Second World War. She was born and raised in central Russia, moving to Leningrad upon her marriage to Elena's father. Elena's sister Marina defied their mother and became an actress, and Elena was given strong guidance to go into a practical occupation like that of her mother. But Elena also has a strong personality, and was taken by the idea of learning English, and was able to go down a road that gave her different opportunities. She was able to study English through university and had the opportunity to interact with foreign students. This led to her leaving and moving to the United States.
Her story is told in a very open way, including detail about her environment and her feelings throughout. An enlightening look at life in middle-class Russia in the 1960s and 1970s. I found her story fascinating, loving the detail about all aspects of her life, her relationships with family and friends, and her own ambivalence about her mother country.
The title comes from a story from her mother's childhood, during the famine, when her grandmother appeased her young uncle cries of hunger by breaking his bread into crumbs and telling him he had "a mountain of crumbs" rather than a single slice of bread.

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