Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brave Little Book

Proving one can’t judge a book by its thickness, here is a brave little book, slight in pages, but powerful in how and what it exposes. The message is a challenge to us today to confront fear and stand up to bullies, at the core of every dictator’s hold on his people. 

BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE by Eugene Velchin, Henry Holt and Company, 2011

This moving story takes place over two days, during the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, but it offers the breadth and depth of a lifetime. As events unfold, ten year old Sasha’s devotion to his father, a Communist, and Stalin, their leader, remains steadfast no matter what he is told. Sasha’s closeness to his father is established with warm, quiet scenes but this ends abruptly when the police, “State Security,” barge in during the night and haul his father away.

In a country suffering from a regime where everyone is watching everybody else, no one is really safe from being “reported.” Sasha’s father was reported by another man living in their communal apartment house. That man and his family move into the disgraced father’s apartment before Sasha can rub the sleep from his eyes, ejecting Sasha into the hallway and leaving him homeless. Seems Sasha and his father enjoyed a little more space in their apartment than others. Communists may believe that everyone should share equally, but woe unto those who seem to have even a little more. Envy causes grief.  

Sasha’s lonely experiences peel away his innocence in layers a child can understand. Life settles upon his shoulders like a blanket that is too heavy. Even so, the book ends on a note of hope. Good people still exist.

The author, who left the Soviet Union when he was 27, has written and illustrated several children’s books. He dedicated this book to his father who “survived the Great Terror.”

In his author’s note, Eugene Velchin relates that during Stalin’s reign, 1923-1953, over 20 million people were executed, imprisoned, or exiled. Many crimes were fictitious and punishment was carried out in secret. This secrecy continued after Stalin’s death. Fear was handed down from generation to generation. Older generations still do not want to talk about this.

This book could be a launching pad for discussion no matter the age of the readers living in your house. Courageous people in parts of our world today face persecution and death for making choices about what they believe to be right.  How fortunate we are that we can talk about anything.

For more, see the author’s website:

Hillview School Library