Sasha Zaichik is the protagonist in this short novel, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is less a hero than an innocent victim, for what else can you call a ten-year old who’s been brought up with nothing but lies in a cynical, totalitarian state that maintains itself through fear and terror.
At first glance Yelchin’s novel looks like a book for children, but don’t be fooled—it carries a message that resonates with readers of all ages. I’m talking about the human toll of Stalin-era Communism in the Soviet Union, but it could apply to any dictatorial government or ideology, past or present. Think Nazi Germany, Maoist China, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, the Taliban, etc.
Sasha, like most children in the USSR, was brought up to idolize Joseph Stalin and the Communist system. Parents were too fearful to do otherwise. Sasha eagerly anticipates becoming an official Young Pioneer at a school ceremony because this is the ideal he has been indoctrinated with. During a 24 hour time span we, the readers, come to see the lies and fear of this era through the innocent eyes of this idealistic young boy. The rotten foundation the structure is built on is exposed and put on display as Sasha experiences the disintegration of his whole world and can’t quite comprehend what happened. I can’t tell you much more without giving away the whole story, so read it. Most adults will finish this book in about an hour, which includes viewing the many illustrations.