Breaking Stalin's Nose
by Eugene Yelchin
Analysis: Writing Style
Breaking Stalin's Nose comes at you faster than the Red Army rolling down the streets of Moscow during the May Day Parade. Yelchin's relatively simple language, short paragraphs, and cut-scenes make the plot come on at a rapid-fire pace. When events are thrown out at such speed, it recreates the dizzying confusion that Sasha is feeling as everything he knows crashes down around him.
Most of the dialogue gets the same job done. The conversations are quick and tidy, and aren't bogged down by long walls o' text. The book's longer paragraphs are reserved for exposition and for moments that are especially thematically noteworthy. Here's just one example (a nifty two-fer, combining both exposition and thematic significance):
My desk is front and center, right next to the desk of Nina Petrovna, our classroom teacher. She always seats the best pupils up front. Vovka Sobakin used to sit in my place, but now he's in the back, in Kolyma, with all the bad ones. We call the back row Kolyma because Kolyma is a faraway region in our country where Stalin sends those who don't deserve to live and work among the honest people. (13.1)
Yelchin's style is also super imaginative, and recreates the experience of being immersed in Sasha's daydreamy mind. Check out this moment, when Sasha looks out at the snowy Moscow night and lets his imagination run wild:
I stare at the statue and pretend it's Comrade Stalin himself, watching over Moscow from his great height. His steady eyes track a legion of shiny black dots zipping up and down the snow-white streets. The dots grow larger and larger, until they turn into shiny black automobiles made of black metal and bulletproof glass. These beautiful machines belong to our State Security. I know because my dad has one. Night after night, Stalin's urgent orders drive these automobiles past our house, but tonight one turns into our courtyard. (5.5)
So Sasha checks out the city at night, and imagines the statue is really a larger-than-life Stalin watching over the streams of vehicles that zoom around town. The imaginative writing ("beautiful machines") turns something that should be terrifying to Sasha into something that is beautiful and somewhat comforting (that is, until the knock sounds at their door).