A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir
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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.
my friend Nina for luring me into the American program summer job. When she asks about Robert, I say he is probably going to travel here for New Year’s. I know that she knows why he’s coming, but she wants me to say it. I tell her he’s studying Russian customs and needs to see a real New Year’s tree. What would my father say about Robert? Was he disillusioned enough with our life to consider this possible marriage a positive move? Or would he, like my mother, lament it and worry? I think of him
call it a line. “All right,” she concedes and takes out her purse, just as I knew she would. “But only chut-chut.” ON MARCH 10, THE thirty-eight of us pile into a streetcar that takes us to Dental Clinic #34. In pairs, we file into a fluorescent-glaring waiting room with a sharp odor of something that smells like the ether they use to kill rabbits in my mother’s anatomy lab. We are told to sit down and wait. My partner, Sveta Yurasova, and I, still holding hands, take the two end seats, away
doubt and add her to my short intelligentny list. WE ARE BOUNCING ON a bus over gouged roads to a nearby village to stock up on bread and milk, my mother, Aunt Muza, and my cousins, each carrying an empty basket. When the bus deposits us in the middle of a dirt road, we walk on a footpath through fields specked with blue stars of cornflowers and purple butterflies of wild sweet peas. I am glad I’ve brought a sweater because I am freezing, although the sun is beating down and my cousin Kostya has
where my street shoes, my little orphans that are now almost ruined by Stankovo’s dust, have been patiently waiting this whole week. We take the familiar path, my cousins flying down, my mother, aunt, and uncle trotting in careful little steps. I am at the end of this procession, every step echoing in my head, and my muscles, unused for a week, shaking inside my skin. Down on the hard, narrow beach Aunt Muza changes into her green and yellow two-piece bathing suit, carefully folding her huge
to find time to study, eh?” I nod and squeeze out a little smile, showing that I know that he knows it’s a lie. He pulls a pen out of an enormous writing set presiding over his desk, signs, and hands the letter back to me. “It’s my last day here,” he says as I mumble my thanks. “We’re going to celebrate after work.” It is obviously no use telling him that I have classes at seven. The day drags on because Viktor Nikolaevich is mostly out of the office. First the red phone rings and he promptly