Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin. 2011.

Ten-year-old Sasha is a good Communist. He is about to become a Young Pioneer, which is a great honor in Stalin-era Russia.  He knows what is expected of him as a Soviet Young Pioneer, and he knows he can make his father—and Comrade Stalin—proud:

“The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.

A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.

A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.”

On the eve of the rally where Sasha is to receive his red scarf, things begin to unravel.  His father, who works for State Security, is arrested. Sasha is sure it is a mistake.  He could not be the son of an Enemy of the State.  He wants answers, but everywhere he turns—to his aunt, to his school—he only finds more questions.  Where he once saw communal living in the apartment he and his father shared with several other families, he begins to understand the secrets and betrayal.  At school, he watches cruelty and false confessions.  Soon he learns what happens to children whose parents have been taken by the State, and his doubts about all that he has known become too much for him.

Sasha’s story is one that many young readers will not know, and Yelchin’s simple, yet powerful, depiction of life under Stalin’s rule will captivate readers—and break their hearts even as they root for Sasha to learn the truth.  The spot illustrations have a slightly ominous tone to them that counteracts Sasha’s optimism and gives young readers clues to the difference between reality and Sasha’s perception of it.

This book will be a valuable resource for history, and it may also be an interesting choice to introduce the idea of an unreliable narrator. Highly recommended.

Blogger:  Mindy R.