Book Reviews

Book review: A Mountain of Crumbs.

This lovingly written memoir by a “Soviet girl” growing up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) reveals the true face of the “worker’s paradise”.

Gorokhova vividly describes how she was brought up by her mother, a doctor and who was later appointed an anatomy professor, and the difficulties the family faced to feed itself.

She makes clear that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) was a façade crumbling within. The population was destitute, with no choice of even basic consumer goods like proper winter boots, mittens, toilet paper, and even properly manufactured mascara.

Gorokhova studied English and was appointed lecturer at the Leningrad University. Eventually the KGB (now USB) found her trustworthy enough to teach English-speaking foreign students, mainly English and American, Russian.

One oft eh American students in the process of completing his PhD took pity on her and even married her so that she could emigrate.

The way authorities behaved after she announced that she was emigrating to the U.S.A is interesting enough to read the whole book. It reveals how the “state” controlled the media and the population at large t ensure that they knew very little of the west, and whatever was published was negative.

Western countries knew very little about the real U.S.S.R; what they knew was just the tip of an iceberg.

This book vividly and devastatingly conveys what it meant growing up in disillusion in the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union. While Brezhnev collected vintage European cars and enjoyed the luxury of Krug champagne, the population had to line up for bread cheese, and bananas whenever they were available.

The ‘leaders’ enjoyed all the luxuries available in special stores for the party functionaries, while the people lived under most uncomfortable housing conditions imaginable.

All these unfortunate conditions in a country with huge natural gas and crude oil deposits not to mention other natural resources like gold, diamonds, and timber.

While reading this memoir, the reader may think that Gorokhova is writing about a ruthless dictatorship that exhorted workers to work hard in compensation for worthless rubles. Workers used to say: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”. This is the reason of the shoddy Soviet goods that were available in teh west, with the possible exception of export quality vodka.

This is a deeply affecting memoir for every student of Slavic culture and people interested to learn how the communist system corrupted the state machinery and officials.  Nothing ever happened without some kind of bribe.

An excellent read for anyone who enjoys lyrical beauty and wry humour.

Highly recommended!

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