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

by Eugene Yelchin (Author) Eugene Yelchin (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

With a masterful mix of comic timing and disarming poignancy, Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin offers a memoir of growing up in Cold War Russia.

Drama, family secrets, and a KGB spy in his own kitchen! How will Yevgeny ever fulfill his parents' dream that he become a national hero when he doesn't even have his own room? He's not a star athlete or a legendary ballet dancer. In the tiny apartment he shares with his Baryshnikov-obsessed mother, poetry-loving father, continually outraged grandmother, and safely talented brother, all Yevgeny has is his little pencil, the underside of a massive table, and the doodles that could change everything. With equal amounts charm and solemnity, award-winning author and artist Eugene Yelchin recounts in hilarious detail his childhood in Cold War Russia as a young boy desperate to understand his place in his family.


Starred Review

Humorous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful.

Review quotes

The self-effacing narrative seamlessly blends in Cold War history, Soviet politics, and loving family interchanges, and Yelchin's sly illustrations appear on almost every page. There's not a lot of material about this time period, and this humorous, informative, and engaging memoir will keep readers entertained.
—Booklist (starred review)

This memoir of [Yelchin's] adolescence is a forthright, darkly humorous and indelible portrait of an artist emerging. . . Yelchin, wonderfully, allows his text and pictures to interrupt each other with glee, reminding us how life begets art. It certainly does here.
—The Horn Book (starred review)

Author Eugene Yelchin gives readers an honest look at what his life was like growing up in Soviet Russia. . . . I believe this book definitely should be included in upper elementary and middle school libraries.
—School Library Connection

Eugene Yelchin's new memoir, The Genius Under the Table, is an extraordinary work of memory told with clear-sightedness and ironic good humor, both disguising a great deal of pathos. This book is a recipe for survival for us all in a world growing tougher by the day.
—David Small, Caldecott Medal winner and National Book Award Finalist for Stitches

I read Eugene Yelchin's sad, funny memoir with tears and laughter. It is told with such exquisite humor and illustrated with such wonderful, biting drawings that, in spite of its darkness, I savored every word and every picture. A treat.
—Uri Shulevitz, winner of the Caldecott Medal and three Caldecott Honors

Eugene Yelchin
Eugene Yelchin is the co-author and illustrator of the 2018 National Book Award Finalist The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, co-written with M. T. Anderson. A Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award Winner, he also received a Newbery Honor for his novel Breaking Stalin's Nose. Born in Leningrad, Russian-American Eugene Yelchin now lives in Topanga, California, with his family.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
October 20, 2021
Sydney Taylor Book Award
Silver Medal 2022
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!