A Mountain of Crumbs
Simon & Schuster
Trade Paperback/308 pages
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". . . a personal and political existence under communism . . ."
Elena Gorokhova metaphorically defines life in the Soviet Union in her book title, "A Mountain of Crumbs," recalling when her grandmother appeased her crying child by convincing him he was better off with a pile of bread crumbs than one slice of bread because he could select one piece at a time.
Her dense memoir details a personal and political existence under communism that prompts her to leave the Soviet Union and emigrate to the United States on a marriage visa. This book is not meant as a negative expose', but rather a capsule of how she and her family's life were shaped by specific events in the 20th century. Her narrative illustration consists of layers independent of the whole but still essential separate parts like a collage.
In one narrative, she writes about a day at the Soviet Union's mandatory dental clinic. She creates the emotional drama around her as she waits in a classroom with the door bolted, dressed to code in a red Young Pioneer kerchief. Inside, in one of dozens of dental chairs, she is fully aware she'll be drilled because of the "squirrels," or pieces of chocolate, her mother often purchased for her and to drink with her own tea. Later, at home she sits on her father's lap and relates her five-teeth-drilling ordeal only to learn about the war where he lost all his teeth to scurvy.
In eighth grade, her doubts already growing, she reluctantly joins the Komsomol, or Young Communist League, a requirement for college admission. As a tourist guide for English students, she questions why the Westerners-only gift shop only accepted hard currency from capitalist countries. Wasn't the currency from "the unstable, dying capitalist West" less trustworthy than Communist currency?
The contradictions greatly influenced Gorokhova and fueled her determination to leave the Soviet Union. She found both her mother and the Soviet Union overbearing and protective. "They're like the inside of a bus at rush hour in July: You can't breathe, you can't move and can't squeeze your way to the door to get out."
Her story covers only her 24 years, but she is currently working a book about her mother's past life. Her mother has since joined her in the United States and they have reconciled.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla