The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin

The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain – Eugene Yelchin, Candlewick Press, 2021. 9781536215526

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5+

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Autobiography

What did you like about the book? Yevgeny’s family lives in one room in Leningrad during the Cold War.  At night he sleeps under his grandmother’s huge table which is okay not only because it is private being covered by a long tablecloth but he can then draw on the underside of the table.  His 16-year-old brother Victor sleeps on three chairs shoved together which is just fine with him as he is a figure skater and this is good practice for his balance.  The Grandmother sleeps on the loveseat while Mom and Dad share the only bed.  They live in fear much of the time as their neighbor is a stalwart communist who reports Jews and anyone who speaks out against the present regime.

Yevgeny at six is trying to find his talent.  He is not an athlete like his brother, though his mother wrangles an audition for him at the ballet school where she worked.  She wanted to be a ballerina, too, but the family is Jewish so this was not possible.  (Mom does not reveal Yevgeny’s heritage to the school.)  Yevgeny’s talent for drawing is finally discovered and he begins art lessons.

The story is hilarious with the droll, matter-of-fact, tongue-in-cheek way that Yelchen tells it but he also treats the reader to his black and white illustrations on nearly every page.  They are very comical as if they were indeed drawn by a young person.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No.

To whom would you recommend this book? I cannot think of another children’s book I have read that takes place in Russia during the Cold War.  Though a different time period in Russian history, the nineteenth century, I am reminded of The Place Where Nobody Stopped (1991) by Jerry Segal and illustrated by Dav Pilkey.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraires

Where would you shelve it? J or Middle school autobiography

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  Yes!

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Editor, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review: October 15, 2021

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