Friday, January 15, 2010

A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir of Midcentury Soviet Chidhood

For a look at how things went down on the other side of the iron curtain during the second half of last century, check out this memoir: Elena Gorokhova's A Mountain of Crumbs.

It's a fairly gentle read.  With the exception of a great-uncle who was shipped away to a gulag for telling a joke and whose fate haunts the story indirectly, there's no outright struggle here.  No, this is more about growing up with the failures of communism and making do with less - not by choice, but by brutal necessity. 

There's less wealth and goods, but less ideas too.  This was a country where discussing the thoughts of foreigners could land you in prison.  This was a country that enforced atheism, and tried to legislate love out of the marriage contract.

It's about the "game of lies" that pervades a nation when everyone is afraid to admit the truth: the government is broken, and it will destroy you if you bring this up.
The rules are simple.  They lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying anyway, and we keep pretending to believe them.
After living through our own year 1955, it was fascinating to read how a woman born in 1956 in the USSR grew up in spite of, and because of, these restrictions. 

Spoiler (from the dust jacket): she moves to the US as soon as she can.

It's nice to know that, whatever problems we had over here, our lives were still preferable to the alternative.

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