Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Mountain of Crumbs


Growing up during the Cold War, I have always had a fascination with Russia/the Soviet Union and life there. After all, Samantha Smith, the girl who became famous for writing the Russian leader, Yuri Andropov, expressing her concern about a possible war between the two countries, was my age and I can vividly recall watching her visit the USSR on television. A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir by Elena Gorokhova is set a few decades before Smith visited the Soviet Union, but I was eager to read an account of life within the Iron Curtain by someone who experienced it firsthand.

Gorokhova writes of a life that may seem restrictive by US standards. She is amazed when she encounters foreigners that Americans can go to the store and buy strawberries in winter- out of season. Or that there are an abundance of books to be had whenever a person may want to read one. She finds it remarkable that prisoners in the US are able to wear denim - a luxury item - as she owns only one pair of jeans purchased on the black market. These are the types of things that I envisioned for people in Russia. Lives filled with hard work and not a lot of reward. At times Gorokhova feels this way, too, and yet, her mother is fiercely loyal to her country as are the other adults in her life.
Gorokhova comes from an educated background and is able to learn English. Because of this opportunities are provided to her that many others do not get. Gorokhova is able to find employment translating and teaching Russian, and one job leads to meeting Robert, an American who is willing to help Elena come to America by marrying her.
This memoir covers Gorokhova's life in Russia, only providing a brief update on her life now in the United States in an epilogue at book's end.
Gorokhova's memoir is well written, reminding me a bit of Azar Nafisi's Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter. A wonderful choice for memoir lovers.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Sounds sad, but well written. Thanks for the great review.