Department of German and Russian
Acclaimed New Memoirist to Read on Growing Up in the Soviet Union
- By LeeAnn Cox
Elena Gorokhova, author of the new memoir, A Mountain of Crumbs, will give a reading on Monday, Feb. 1 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Memorial Lounge, Waterman. A reception will follow the reading.
"This is the best memoir I've read about Russia since Vladimir Nabokov's Speak Memory," says Russian professor Kevin McKenna, who was invited to read the manuscript by Gorokhova's daughter, one of his students. The book was just published by Simon & Schuster.
A Mountain of Crumbs paints a stark vision of childhood in the 1960s and '70s under communist rule in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Telling her story, Gorokhova makes class and politics personal, sometimes in the extreme -- her great uncle, taken in the middle of the night, eventually shot for making an anti-Soviet joke. And she writes a coming-of-age tale that's ripe with the impact of scarcity.
According to a review in The New York Times, "...hunger and curiosity prompt some of [the] memoir's most evocative passages. Reading translations of Western writers in a small literary magazine, Ms. Gorokhova finds herself 'stumbling over oysters in Francoise Sagan and a vegetable called asparagus in Iris Murdoch.'"
Gorokhova writes of that experience: "Even the word itself, 'asparagus,' sounds as decadent as 'pineapple' and 'quail' from a Mayakovsky poem, the two truly unsocialist foods eradicated in 1917 along with the czar." From an early age her hunger went beyond food to desire to learn English and break away from the Soviet Union as well as a mother she viewed as repressive as the state.
In 1980, at 24, Gorokhova emigrated to the U.S. where she received a doctorate in language education. She lives in New Jersey.