I had not realized how recently published The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin was. I figured this was a 1990s books or even earlier due the 1980s style of cover. But then again, since the author was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s it is probably appropriate to have that feeling to the cover.
We learn about the author/illustrator in a way only they can tell us. The troubles, the love, the misunderstandings, the political and the art all come together in a children’s voice but with the wisdom of the hindsight of an adult. Growing up during the Cold War I only saw one side of things (our side), and this allows the reader to see the other side of the situation (the Russian side). The history of the time is interesting, as well as the family dynamic. Adults reading will appreciate some of the subtle “storylines” of the characters, while kid readers will enjoy the coming of terms and age with art.
I liked that I knew some of the people mentioned (Mikael Baryshnikov) and others were new. I liked how the people of Russia were “good communists” but there was also a “poet inside” of them wanting to be free. The concept of freedom runs through the book as only a child can understand (or not understand) it. As an adult reading, I was wondering, “How many children saw their parents be “good communists” and truly believed that was the right way to be, when really the parents were just trying to stay alive, trying not to “be noticed too much” and figure out how to make something out of nothing.” I wondered how much talent and hope play a role in keeping one going. And I wondered how much the family knew about Yelchin’s “hidden” talent before it came to light?
We can only see the characters from Yelchin’s point of view, allowing the adult to question, and allowing the reader (strong) eight to 12 to just enjoy a peek into a person’s life that is different than their own.