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Review: The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

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

By Eugene Yelchin
Candlewick Press

ISBN: 9781536215526
Grades 4 and Up
Out Now

*Best New Book*

Find it at:
McLean & Eakin | Your Library

Good memoir can show the author’s perspective. Great memoir can show the reader things they’ve never seen before. With The Genius Under the Table, Newbery Honor winner Eugene Yelchin (Breaking Stalin’s Nose), brings to life his childhood in Communist Russia. Told with humor, sadness, and hope, it’s my favorite memoir in recent memory.

In Cold War Russia, nothing comes easy. Yevgeny lives in a cramped apartment with his mother, father, and brother. Space is so limited Yevgeny is forced to sleep under the oak dining table. Yevgeny’s older brother is a talented figure skater. Yevgeny’s mother is obsessed with the ballet. His father loves poetry. Yevgeny keeps his passion a secret. Armed with his father’s pencil, he draws pictures on the underside of the table. But when his family discovers his art, what will they think?

Short chapters play out like episodes – each one stands alone, yet adds to the larger picture. Yelchin’s straightforward style of writing is full of dry humor and simple, perfect observations. The picture Yelchin paints of Communist Russia is one that only an author with first hand experience could make.

The black and white graphite artwork adds a wonderful visual element to the text. Yelchin’s line and sense of perspective bring to mind Uri Schulevitz.

The Genius Under the Table is the rare memoir that not only puts you in the shoes of the author, it brings you into a fully-realized world that actually existed. I savored this book, and here’s hoping kids do to.

Review copy from the publisher.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Thank you, Travis!

  2. Libby Bergstrom says

    I agree. It’s rare to find a memoir that’s laugh-out-loud funny and also provides an accurate picture of the grim realities of life in the Soviet Union.