Yelchin, Eugene. The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21552-6. $16.99. 201 p. Grades 5-8.
Eugene (Yvevgeny) Yelchin lives in the USSR during the height of Cold War communism, and all he wants to do is find his own “artistic talent,” usually of an athletic nature, so that he can live a better life. In the USSR, most people are poor, but people with artistic talent are more valuable to the country, and they often enjoy more comfortable living conditions and greater opportunities to work and travel. Yelchin’s parents try everything to discover his athletic talent, but they eventually discover that he is a gifted artist. While Yelchin pursues his dream of becoming a talented member of Communist society, he begins to understand a more complicated truth; in the USSR it is not easy to play by the rules of Communism and also live an authentic life.
THOUGHTS: This brief memoir is easy to read, and the illustrations that accompany the text are a delightful addition to the story. Harder truths about life in Soviet Russia, and the tragic impacts of dictators like Stalin and Lenin, are gently introduced in a way that will encourage students to seek out further information. The book ends on a hopeful note that mirrors the path of the author’s own life. Recommended addition for any middle school biography section!
Memoir Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD