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I will not rest until I am truly useful to my beloved Soviet land and to you personally, dear Comrade Stalin. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful opportunity,” Sasha Zaichik. Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Breaking Stalin’s Nose

by Eugene Yelchin
AR Test, Teaches About Culture

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Ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants nothing more than to join the Soviet Young Pioneers. After all, he has had their laws memorized since he was six years old: 

  • A Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.  
  • A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.  
  • A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.  

But the night before Sasha is to join the Young Pioneers, his father is arrested. Sasha knows this is a mistake. His father, after all, is a devoted communist. But as bad turns to worse and events spin out of control, Sasha begins to realize that not everyone’s life is full of faith in Comrade Stalin.  

As Sasha begins to see how the Soviet Union treats those who are not in favor—those with family who have been arrested, those who refuse to be a snitch and give the Secret Police names or those who simply do not obey fast enough or fervently enough—Sasha begins to doubt that he wants to join the Young Pioneers after all.  

Eugene Yelchin’s first-hand experience living in the Soviet Union shines through in this intimate and heart-breaking story about Sasha. The details of daily life in the Soviet Union will fascinate readers: from living in a communal apartment to admiring pictures of Stalin and singing Communist songs. But the heart of the story comes from Sasha’s relationship with his father and his emotional journey once his father is arrested.  

Readers will relate to the deep love and trust Sasha has with his father. When he is arrested, Sasha does not doubt his father for a moment. Sasha knows the arrest was a mistake, and trusts Stalin will soon realize this and release his father. It’s only as events continue to unfold—and new facts come to light—that Sasha begins to lose the rose-colored glasses with which he has been taught to view the world.  

Breaking Stalin’s Nose is a wonderful story that will help readers understand life in the Soviet Union. It provides a glimpse into how fear, propaganda, and glorification of Stalin led so many people to obey the Communist reign. Sasha’s authentic voice and deep love for his father make him a relatable narrator. While Sasha fully believes in Stalin at the beginning of the book, his emotional journey to deciding for himself if it’s right to join the Young Pioneers emphasizes the importance of thinking for oneself and not blindly accepting people in authority.  

In the end, Sasha chooses to follow the path that he feels is right. While the future seems bleak, Sasha is at peace with his decision and has hope that one day there will come a better future for the Russian people. For anyone interested in the Soviet Union, this story is a must-read. Its plot takes place over two days yet is packed with cultural and emotional punch that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 


  • State Security comes to arrest Sasha’s father in the middle of the night. “When I get to the room, Dad is sitting on the floor, holding his ear. The officer’s leather belt creaks as he turns to look at me . . . this close, I see [my father’s] ear is bleeding.”  
  • Sasha tries to get into the Kremlin to ask Stalin to release his father. When the guards see him, one “swears, steam bursts out of his mouth, and he plunges his enormous mitten into my face. I duck under and run. The guard blows a whistle and the other whistles join in. Suddenly, guards are everywhere. One slips and falls, and his pistol goes off like a whip crack.” Sasha is unharmed.  
  • At school, the students gang up on a kid they call “Four-Eyes” during a snowball fight. “Vovka is lifting a snowball, but he doesn’t throw it at me. He throws it at Four-Eyes. Several kids join Vovka and line up into a firing squad. They hurl snowballs at Four-Eyes and he covers his face to protect his glasses.”  
  • Sasha doesn’t feel like throwing snowballs at Four-Eyes, but other kids cry, “Traitor! Enemy of the people!” Vovka declares that “Who’s not with us is against us.” Sasha gives into the pressure and “before I know what I’m doing, I grab the snowball from Vovka’s hand and throw it at Four-Eyes. There’s a loud pop as it hits him in the face. The eyeglasses snap, glass splinters and one shard cuts his cheek.”  
  • Vovka takes a banner from Sasha and “jabs me in the stomach.”  
  • To quiet a crowd, a man “pulls out his pistol, and points it at the ceiling.” He does not fire the weapon.  
  • When the students are walking in a line, Sasha stops and “someone punches me in the back” so that Sasha will “fall in with everybody again.”  
  • After being repeatedly taunted by his teacher—Nina Patrovna—Vovka “flies at Nina Patrovna, grips her by the throat, and begins strangling her. Nina Petrovna’s face turns red and her eyes bulge. She makes gurgling noises and starts kicking up her legs. Nina Petrovna and Vovka knock things to the floor and bump into desks.” Vovka is dragged off to the principal’s office.  
  • While at the principal’s office, Vovka “bumps into Nina Petrovna, who is walking out; she shrieks and leaps back. Vovka gives her a nasty grin and goes in.”  
  • Sasha climbs on a desk with a banner and sings “A Bright Future Is Open to Us.” The teacher chases him, trying to get him to stop. The teacher “tries to grab my foot, but I’m faster. I hop from desk to desk, shouting the song and waving the banner. Nina Petrovna chases after me. Everyone’s laughing. Then I miss a desktop and go down, and right away she’s on top of me, screeching and wrestling the banner out of my hands.”  
  • When the teacher is accused of breaking Stalin’s statue, State Security guards “twist Nina Petrovna’s arms and drag her to the door. She screams and kicks and tries to hold on to nearby kids. They duck under her arms, laughing.”  
  • When Sasha goes to visit his father in prison, a guard yells “Step back!” The guard “aims the rifle at me. He looks like he’d shoot a kid, so I stop.” The guard directs Sasha to get in a line. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The nose is accidentally broken off of a Stalin statue; Sasha imagines the nose is talking to him. “By the window hangs a cloud of tobacco smoke so thick, I can’t see who is talking . . . the smoke drifts away, and now I see who’s sitting in that chair—Comrade Stalin’s plaster nose, and it’s smoking a pipe!”  
  • When speaking to a State Security Senior Lieutenant, Sasha thinks “this close, I can smell him. Tobacco, sweat, and something else. Gunpowder, I decide.”  


  • When Sasha’s father is awarded the order of the Red Banner, Comrade Stalin calls him “an iron broom purging the vermin from our midst.”  
  • Sasha is called an “Amerikanetz” because his mother was American. The term is considered an insult.  
  • A Jewish kid is mocked and called Four-Eyes. “Four-Eyes is Borka Finkelstein, the only Jewish kid in our class . . .we call him Four-Eyes because he wears eyeglasses. Anybody who’s not a worker or a peasant and reads a lot, we call Four-Eyes.”  


  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 
Other books by Eugene Yelchin
Other books you may enjoy

I will not rest until I am truly useful to my beloved Soviet land and to you personally, dear Comrade Stalin. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful opportunity,” Sasha Zaichik. Breaking Stalin’s Nose

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