breaking stalins nose

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin

Released September 27, 2011.

Sasha Zaichek has always wanted to be a Young Pioneer and demonstrate his dedication to Communism and Stalin himself.  At age ten, he has known the laws of the Pioneers for 4 years.  So when his father is suddenly arrested, Sasha has to decide what to do.  He knows that there has been some mistake, that his father has done nothing wrong and that an error was made.  Thrown out of his home, he tries to find a place to spend the night with his aunt, but his uncle will not let him stay.  The next day at school, he pretends all is normal.  But as his day progresses, more and more of the truths behind Stalin Russia are revealed to him and his own truths are tested.

Velchin, who was born and educated in Russia, writes with a simple voice here that belies the darkness hidden just below the surface.  He has created a very naïve protagonist in Sasha, a boy who truly believes in Communism and Stalin.  Told in two days, the story shows how quickly naiveté can crack, crumble and fall away.  Velchin captures the fear that people lived in under the Stalin regime, yet he also shows the resiliency of the human spirit at the same time.

Velchin manages to create a book about a violent regime where the cruelty and fear is foremost, but the violence that would not be appropriate for young readers happens off the page.  This is a book that allows young readers to understand a situation in an intimate way without flinching away from the darkness that is so much a part of it.

This is a powerful book about freedom, Russia, and one young boy’s path to knowledge.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.