Yelchin’s debut novel examines life in Stalinist Russia through the eyes of Sasha, a young boy who idolizes Stalin. He believes the lies and half truths he has been told and rationalizes anomalies that don’t fit his vision of Stalin’s glorious leadership until the night before he is to join the Young Pioneers, the night his father is betrayed and arrested, the night he begins to see the painful truth about his father, his friends, and his idol. The explicit theme is shared by a substitute teacher in a Russian Literature class:
“What ‘The Nose’ so vividly demonstrates to us today,’ says Luzhko, ‘is that when we blindly believe in someone else’s idea of what is right or wrong for us as individuals, sooner or later our refusal to make our own choices could lead to the collapse of the entire political system. An entire country. The world, even.’
He looks at the class significantly and says, ‘Do you understand?’
Of course, they have no idea what he’s talking about. This Luzhko is suspicious. I always thought so. All teachers use words you hear on the radio, but he doesn’t. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I turn and walk away.”
The illustration of Sasha’s principal resembles Adolph Hitler. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Our world continues to be deeply divided and far too many people accept ideas and doctrine at face value. Perhaps Breaking Stalin’s Nose should be required reading for us all, a clarion call to think for one’s self rather than blindly “drinking the Kool-Aid” of any cause.