Fiction, Historical, Middle Grade

Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Breaking Stalin's Nose book cover
Image from Sommer Reading

Title: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Author: Eugene Yelchin

Genre: Historical

Ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six. But now that it’s finally time for him to become a Young Pioneer, the day he has waited for so long, everything seems to go awry. Perhaps Sasha doesn’t want to be a Young Pioneer after all. Is it possible that everything he knows about the Soviet government is a lie?

This is such a tiny, unremarkable book that I probably would never have noticed it. Even if I had, the title would have made me put it down – what, is the little Russian kid going to punch Stalin in the face?

But it was a book club pick, and so I read it.

Sasha (I still can’t get over how in Russia, Sasha is a boy’s name) was innocent, trusting, and naive – extremely naive, it seemed, for a ten-year-old. I kept wanting him to get with the picture, pick up on all the clues, and figure out what was going on. But that process is part of the story.

This book takes place over the span of one and a half days, starting with the night before the day Sasha is to join the Young Pioneers and ending at the end of that day. But a lot happens in that day and a half, and there’s no way I can say there’s not enough plot to fill this book.

I learned about communism in history. I learned all the logical reasons why it was bad and wouldn’t work. But Breaking Stalin’s Nose shows, through the eyes of one completely indoctrinated little boy, the attitudes and corruption behind the system. It wasn’t until reading this book that I understood how communists think.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose is a super-short, easy read that should be required reading for any history unit on communism. (It also has nothing to do with punching Stalin in the face.) I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it for the plot or the characters, but the insight into the communist attitude is indespensable.