Breaking Stalin's Nose
In Yelchin's Soviet Union, people live in crowded communal apartments (2.1), queue up for food rations in the freezing cold (11.2), and everywhere face the steely stare of Joseph Stalin as they go about their day. Breaking Stalin's Nose gives us a brief glimpse into what it was like to live under Stalin in Moscow in the 1950s. And it's not prettied up by any number of smart scarlet Pioneer scarves or fancy May Day parades.
Questions About Visions of the Soviet Union
- There seem to be tons of people living in Moscow, and there are lots of images of overcrowding: Sasha's apartment (where some people don't even have rooms to sleep in), to people lining up for food, to citizens clinging to the streetcar like a pack of rats trying to stay on a sinking ship. Why does the city seem so overcrowded? Why might The Powers That Be want most of the population living in urban centers instead of spreading them out in the vast Russian landscape?
- What's Sasha's attitude toward Stukachov before his father is arrested? He definitely has some mixed feelings about him. What are the differences in living conditions between the two families? What might have motivated Stukachov to turn Sasha's dad in?
- What purpose do you think this parade fulfills? What are The Powers That Be trying to communicate to its citizens? Can you think of any festivals from your own country that it might be similar to? Do any modern-day countries put on pageants similar to the May Day parade that Sasha describes? If so, how is that country or countries similar to or different from the USSR?
- What's up with that "war preparedness" class that all the kids at Sasha's school take?
Chew on This
Communal living can never be a functional, effective way to live, because you sacrifice too much to the group (such as privacy).
Yelchin doesn't give us any positive images of the family unit in this novel, but rather shows us the limits of family loyalty under the Soviet system.