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Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
When you think of communal living, you might think first of the happy hippie crunchy granola variety, which (we admit) can sometimes look pretty appealing. In this novel, though, we're talking a completely different type of communal living that looks a lot less fun (especially for the poor sap who gets to sleep in the cubby next to the toilet!). What do you think might be some of the benefits of communal living? Do we see any benefits of the type shown in the book? How has the idealistic view of communal living been twisted in some way by the darker, more Oliver Twist-esque style (please, sir, can I have another carrot?) of the Soviet system?
Sasha, Vovka and Four-Eyes seem like three peas in an outcast pod: they each are the children of accused criminals and are each "foreign" in some way (Sasha's mom was an American, Four-Eyes is Jewish, and Vovka is persona non grata because his father is a "wrecker"). Why do you think Yelchin makes these guys so similar? What's important about their differences, and what do they suggest about how different groups were treated in this society?
Okay—we know you're just waiting for this one: What in the world is up with that conversation Sasha has with Stalin's plaster nose, anyway? Did all of those biology lab chemical fumes go to his head? What is the effect of having this moment of unreality come into the novel? Do you think Sasha is really having a conversation with a real person, but is recounting it in a sort of allegorical, Life-of-Pi-like manner? Just what's going on here?
A whopping majority of the adults in Breaking Stalin's Nose seem ripped right from the pages of Lemony Snicket—only darker and more twisted, and very, very real. From Aunt Larisa's husband's cool attitude toward Sasha's plight, to Nina Petrovna's casual cruelty, to the senior lieutenant threatening to take Sasha to prison, adults in this novel don't seem to have a nurturing bone in their bodies (and that's the understatement of the day). Why do you think the adults are so cruel to children here? What might be the larger political purpose for this behavior?
How would you like to have to listen to "America the Beautiful" and "The Star Spangled Banner" as your only music choices on a daily basis? Or be forced to continually read how great your country's great Leader and Teacher is? These techniques are basically "propaganda," which was huge in the USSR during this time. What are some other examples you can find in the novel? What do you think makes these types of propaganda so effective? Do you see anything similar working in our own country?