Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose
by Eugene Velchin
New York: Henry Holt, 2011. 150 pgs. Fiction.

Sasha has waited his whole life to join Stalin's Young Pioneers, the young people's arm of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. He is even more excited to know that his father, a ranking official in the State Security quartered at Lubyanka, will come to school to tie on his red neckerchief, along with those of his classmates. But on the night before the ceremony, jack-booted State Security agents come to Sacha's apartment and take his father away. Almost before he can get back into the house, the neighbors who have denounced his father and caused his arrest have moved into his apartment and thrown his stuff out onto the landing. Sacha goes to his aunt's house, but his uncle tells him to get lost so they won't get into trouble. When he goes to school he is denied membership in the Young Pioneers since his father has become an enemy of the state. When he accidentally breaks the nose off a statue of Stalin in the schoolyard, one of his classmates takes the blame so he will be sent to Lubyanka--he is looking for his father (who has already been executed); another classmate denounces the teacher though he knows Sacha is at fault, and she gets hauled away. The horrors of the Great Terror are told aslant here, in a child's-size tale of a young boy's disillusionment and the loss of all he has. The story ends with a scant hopefulness. Sacha is waiting in line at Lubyanka in hopes of seeing his father; the woman waiting with him gives him something to eat and offers to let him sleep in her son's cot, because he is in Lubyanka as well, and may not return. Peter Sis calls Breaking Stalin's Nose "an important book for all people living in free society." It would be well for the youngsters among us to know what others have suffered and do suffer in other lands. This book is a great starting point, especially combined with parental discussion.

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