I read a lot of blurbs* -- the frequently overblown, sometimes clichéd, always enthusiastic statements, typically by one author about another author’s book. Because I see so many blurbs, they rarely impress me. So imagine my surprise when I opened a January galley from Simon & Schuster and found a simple two-page printout titled “Advance Praise for Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs.” Contained therein is perhaps the most impressive collection of blurbs for a single book that I’ve ever encountered.
The first blurb is from Billy Collins, acclaimed poet and former U.S. poet laureate, who describes Gorokova’s account of growing up in the Soviet Union as “the Russian equivalent of Angela’s Ashes.” Next is Frank McCourt himself, the author of Angela’s Ashes, who died in July. Before his death, McCourt composed a blurb in which he ruminates about Gorokhova’s “rich experience” and wonders why the book is “so damn readable.” The memoir also garners praise from Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee (“an enthralling read”); Sergei Krushchev, son of former Soviet prime minister Nikita Krushchev (“an endlessly Russian quest for self-redemption”); novelist Ursula Hegi (“gorgeous and evocative”) and Carlos Eire (“every page bears witness to the deepest longing of the human heart”). Eire knows a thing or two about growing up under a Communist regime, having won the National Book Award for Waiting for Snow in Havana, a dazzling account of his youth in Cuba.
So what did I do after reading all those blurbs? I started reading A Mountain of Crumbs myself, and decided in short order that BookPage readers would want to know more about Gorokhova and her “rich,” “readable,” “gorgeous and evocative” memoir. Stay tuned for an interview with the author in the January issue of BookPage. And never underestimate the power of a blurb.
* Did you know? The word “blurb” was coined by American author Gelet Burgess, who in 1907 commissioned a special jacket for his novel Are You A Bromide? and christened the young woman pictured on the cover as “Miss Belinda Blurb.” Miss Blurb had many wonderful things to say about the novel (“This book has 42 carat THRILLS in it”) and her last name was forever after associated with effusive praise for a book.