Russian memoir makes lasting impression

“A memoir is an impression of your life,” writer Elena Gorokhova said. “It’s an impression of someone looking back.” Through her most recent memoir, she hoped to attain this goal. Gorokhova read several passages from her newly published memoir “A Mountain of Crumbs” to an audience in the Waterman Building on Feb. 1. When Gorokhova first decided to write the memoir, she did it for personal reasons rather than fame and fortune. Yet her fortunes aligned as publisher Simon & Schuster picked it up.”Like every writer, I was hoping a big [publishing] house would buy it,” Gorokhova said. “What surprised me were the [positive] responses of the writers I approached for advanced quotes.” Gorokhova’s memoir consists of 20 chapters, or “episodes,” which depict her relationship with her mother and her sister and the experience of growing up in Soviet Russia. She initially learned this literary style from Pulitzer Prize- winning author Frank McCourt at a conference she attended in 2004. She uses these time-sensitive characters to depict “hotspots,” momentous occasions that set up episodes in her life, according to Gorokhova.In one episode, Gorokhova tells the tale of a defining middle school experience. During an assignment that required her to write about a play, her teacher scolded her when she chose an American topic rather than a Russian one. “All of her memories were connected to strong emotions that she felt,” Russian literature student Stephen Kent, who attended the lecture, said.A running theme throughout the book is Gorokhova’s love for the English language. Although she had studied it in school from a young age, she became infatuated when she first heard it spoken. “My love for English had nothing to do with the ideology or the country, it had to do with the language itself; its musicality,” she said. “It was rarely heard, unknown and mysterious.”One of the more frightening episodes of the novel is when Gorokhova joined the “Young Pioneers,” an organization that trained Russian children to be communists. “The human aspect of what happens to a girl growing up is the same in every country, but the setting, I hope, will shed some light on what it was like growing up in [Soviet Russia],” Gorokhova said.The gravity of the novel hit Russian professor Kevin McKenna hard. McKenna recently approached President Fogel and asked to make “A Mountain of Crumbs” the required summer reading book for incoming freshmen.”I consider this the best Russian memoir I have ever read since Nabokov’s ‘Speak, Memory,'” he said. Kent, one of McKenna’s students, thought that hearing her speak after reading the novel was particularly intriguing.”[It was] cool to hear her speak her words, expound on her experiences and tell the story,” he said.