The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Candlewick. Oct. 2021. 208p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781536215526.
Gr 5 Up–Yelchin has created an unforgettable portrayal of one family’s experiences living in the Soviet Union during the Cold War in his ingenious memoir. Using expressive drawings, Yelchin enhances his story of growing up in Leningrad. Yevgeny, his brother Victor, father, mother, and grandmother all share one room in a communal apartment. Each figure is shown to be beautifully human, flaws and all. Victor is a wonderful ice skater who began by skating behind trucks in traffic; the father is a stern Communist who loves Russian poets, such as Osip Mandelstam; the mother works for the Vaganova Ballet School and adores Mikhail Baryshnikov; and the grandmother is keeping a secret about their grandfather. Every evening, all the furniture in their one room living space has to be moved to convert it into their bedroom. Yevgeny sleeps under the dining room table, where he draws on the underside of the table each night with a pencil he has taken from his father. When his drawings are discovered, Yevgeny earns the nickname of “The Genius Under the Table” from his family and begins to study drawing. With an engaging and likable subject, Newbery Honor author Yelchin offers a poignant look at growing up during Cold War–era Soviet Union that will fascinate readers.
VERDICT Recommended for those who love captivating memoirs mixed with humor.

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