A Mountain Of Crumbs

Elena Koroghova in happy days…

I found much to enjoy here and much to relate to especially my grandparent’s extreme frugality and my mother’s granite belief in the duty of hard work. My family’s sloughing off of the old ways. Gorokhova tells the interesting history of a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union but I wish she would have parsed her story more thoroughly. Why was her mother such a staunch supporter of the state? How did the author decide so easily to leave country, family, and friends? I would have loved for her to juxtapose the poverty and security of the Soviet welfare state versus freedom loving Americans who, awash with money and religion, allow people to ‘sleep under bridges’ and suffer without health care.

It seemed so easy for the author to leave her homeland and family. Leading up to the point, she never expresses longing for freedom or for the West. Mostly she is perturbed with silly state protocol – the same things I feel when I renew my driver’s license. In fact, her decision to leave isn’t really even a decision: she simply jumps aboard a wind that blows from an American student: he proposes to her as a means to help her leave the USSR with the caveat that he will continue to see other women while they are married. This apparently presents a better future than the author is expecting in Moscow but she doesn’t explain why.

The mountain hamlet of my Grandparents

However much I wished for something deeper, I was absorbed by the book and story. The prose is wonderful, especially for a non-native speaker. The characters can be thin and, typical for memoirs, there are dry spots but the story will carry anyone with an interest in family or history. This isn’t quite Tolstoy or Solzhenitsyn but a very good read in its own right. I’m not sure of the book’s appeal to those without a connection to Russia or the Eastern Bloc. Well worth the cost.

3.5 stars.

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