Study Guide


1. Explain the significance of the book title. Where did it originate? How does it keep recurring throughout the course of the book? In what way is a “mountain of crumbs” a metaphor for the failing Soviet Union?

2. Discuss the notion of vranyo. How does Elena first learn about vranyo? How do Russians play the game of vranyo in their daily lives? How is this game played in Elena’s family?

3. Elena and her tutor cannot find the Russian equivalent of the English word “privacy.” What do you think this says about Russia?

4. Gorokhova’s mother is often a symbol of the Russian people. Compare her young life to her life as a mother. How does this drastic change influence Elena’s choices in life?

5. Recount the encounter between Elena and Kevin in the marketplace. How is it indicative of the differences between the East and the West? What does it say about the misconceptions each had towards the other’s life?

6. Did the book enrich your understanding about life in this time and place? What were some of your preconceived ideas of the USSR? Did Mountain of Crumbs confirm or refute these notions?

7. There is a change in tone between the chapters set in the country, and those set in the city. How does this reflect the difference in lifestyles and what Elena feels about them? What role does place play in this book?

8. Elena chooses to end her story with her departure to America, followed by a short epilogue about the present day. Why do you think she chose to end the story there? How would reading the story of her first few years in America impact the tone of the book for you?


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