Book Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose, Eugene Yelchin

It’s Monday! What are you reading?? is hosted by Teach Mentor Texts
I’ve been sidetracked by adult fiction and professional reading this week, but I did manage (at last!) to get to a book I’ve been so looking forward to reading: Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin.  I had blogged some time ago about some of the other books Eugene has illustrated, but this is his first novel, and the subject matter comes from his own life experiences in the former Soviet Union.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose is the story of Sasha Zaichik, who idolizes both his father and his father’s boss: Stalin.  Through his ten year old eyes, the world revolves around “the great Leader and Teacher” who works night and day to ensure that the good workers of the Soviet Union march “forward and ever forward to Communism.”  It seems to be a world in which there is much that Sasha doesn’t fully understand but is convinced, nevertheless, is just and fair and leading towards a bright future.  Sasha’s greatest dream is to wear the red kerchief that signifies his membership in the Young Pioneers – Stalin’s dauntless youth brigade.  To make matters even better, none other than his own father will have the privilege of tying the scarf during this important ceremony in front of his entire school. Sasha is simply bursting with pride and excitement.
But, the night before this special event, Sasha’s world is suddenly upended and  all that once seemed safe and true vanishes.
As Sasha tells his story, we are transported into Soviet Russia – where everyone is a suspect, and truth is sacrificed for the exigencies of survival.  Yelchin captures Sasha’s innocence beautifully – the reader knows far more than he does, and can see where the story is going….but one hopes because one has grown to truly love this little boy. 
The nightmarish unravelling of Sasha’s life makes for powerful reading.  His story also allows us to ask important questions about power, fear and what we take to be true.  In Yechin’s afterword, he writes, “I set this story in the past, but the main issue in it transcends time and place.  To this day, there are places in the world where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right.”  
Yelchin’s illustrations are nothing short of remarkable – he has a way of capturing facial expressions that reveal complex thought, joy, hope and terror.  These illustrations lent so much to the book’s reading experience.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose  would be an excellent choice for a middle school historical fiction study.  Yelchin’s website is full of just the sort of details and information that one could share with one’s students in order to make them aware of the historical framework of the novel. 
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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose, Eugene Yelchin

  1. It looks as if you are one of the few who know this book, Tara. It sounds like a wonderful addition to one's historical fiction collection as you said. There are several that won awards I knew, and others I didn't. Nice to have some to look forward to! And there are several adult books about the Soviet Union recently in bookstores. Interesting!

  2. Thank you so much for highlighting this book today! I tried to get it yesterday, at my Indie, but they won't have it until next week. I love surprises–it's wonderful that this book didn't go undiscovered.

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