A Mountain of Crumbs

A Memoir

A Mountain of Crumbs

Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a Soviet girl who discovers the truths adults are hiding from her and the lies her homeland lives by.

Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena finds her passion in the complexity of the English language—but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena is controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, a mirror image of her motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. In the battle between a strong-willed daughter and her authoritarian mother, the daughter, in the end, must break free and leave in order to survive.

Through Elena’s captivating voice, we learn not only the stories of Russian family life in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose curiosity and determination finally transport her to a new world. It is an elegy to the lost country of childhood, where those who leave can never return.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439125687 | 
  • February 2011
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A Mountain of Crumbs includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Elena Gorokhova. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Soviet Russia of the 1960s and 1970s, where Elena Gorokhova grows up, is a bleak, disillusioned world, a land that promises everything but delivers little.  How do you preserve the spark of enchantment amid the mandatory courses in scientific communism and banners proclaiming “We thank the party for the people’s welfare” above lines for toilet paper?  Elena searches for the magic missing in her life and finds it in the English language— a passion that in the Soviet Union verges on the subversive.  

Controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, Elena learns early to play the national game of pretending.  “They pretend to pay us,” says her older sister, summing up Soviet life, “and we pretend to work.”  Her mother, born eight years before Russia turned into the Soviet Union see more

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About the Author

Elena Gorokhova
© Lauren Perlstein

Elena Gorokhova

Elena Gorokhova grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, although for most of her life it was known to her as Leningrad. At the age of twenty-four she married an American and came to the United States with only a twenty kilogram suitcase to start a new life. The bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs and Russian Tattoo, she has a Doctorate in Language Education and currently lives in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, on BBC Radio, and in a number of literary magazines.