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

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

By Eugene Yelchin
Candlewick, 2021
201 pages

Age 9 and older

Eugene Yelchin’s funny, tender memoir recounts aspects of his childhood and young adulthood in Leningrad during the Cold War. Young Yevgeny’s father is a lover of poetry, his mother a lover of beauty and dance who fears it’s only a matter of time before the incomparable Baryshnikov makes his escape to the west. Their family of five, including his older brother and his grandmother, live in a single room, where Yevgeny sleeps on a cot under the table, secretly stealing his father’s pencil to draw every night. His brother is an ice skater, while their mother hopes that Yevgeny might succeed at ballet—something she once dreamed of doing herself. To please her he agrees to try, but Yevgeny knows he has no gift for dance. He also knows his parents worry—what will he do without a talent? The day his father discovers Yevgeny’s many drawings on the underside of the table, he proclaims his son a genius. Soon Yevgeny’s taking lessons from an artist, but lessons in life are all around him in this observant, witty, moving account.  Jaunty black-and-white drawings are found throughout a narrative in which the measure of life as a Soviet Citizen is equal parts absurdity and poignancy. ©2021 Cooperative Children’s Book Center