Thursday, December 01, 2011
Breaking Stalin's Nose
Sasha Zaichik is about to join the Young Pioneers - and he cannot wait! He writes a letter to Stalin as he waits for his father to come home from work. His father works in State Security, and Sasha is proud of the work he does, rooting out traitors from their country.
Suddenly, his world changes completely. The Secret Service comes and arrests his father. Sasha is shocked, and he immediately tries to go see Stalin, the great leader. Sasha is sure Stalin would realize a big mistake has been made, and would immediately release his father.
However, things do not go as planned, and events go from bad to worse when Sasha makes his way to school the next day.
Yelchin does a masterful job of slowly exposing Sasha's naivete' throughout the course of the book - and exposing the sinister underpinnings of the system Sasha trusted explicitly. Yelchin grew up in the USSR, and used his own experiences to write this book - which he explains in an afterword.
Because of the disturbing nature of peer pressure, group-think, and manipulation, children should not read this book without an adult. (Which is why I'm reviewing it here instead of on my kid's book review blog.) However, with an adult's guidance and discussion, this book can be a powerful tool in helping children (and adults) understand how people survive in hostile dictatorships.