RUSSIAN WINTER by Daphne Kalotay
“Dancers must remember everything.”
Review by Betsey Van Horn В (APR 25, 2011)
Daphne Kalotay imbues the crowd-pleasing qualities of commercial fiction with a soft and sensuous literary touch in this novel of exile and family, love and betrayal. From the Stalinist aggression of Russia to the peaceful, snowy streets of Boston, the reader is taken on a page-turning journey of professional ballet, fancy jewels, and ethereal poetry. This is an historical romance written by a scholar to appeal to readers seeking a satisfying escape.
As the novel opens in contemporary Boston, Drew Brooks, an associate director at an esteemed auction house, is preparing for a daring, intrepid auction. The jewels of Soviet-defected and Russian ballerina Nina Revskaya are soon to be bid on, with proceeds going to the Boston Ballet. The now eighty-year-old former danseur is in possession of a most elegant collection, including part of an amber set with the once-popular and now priceless insect inclusions. As Drew and Nina size each other up, a thrill goes down the reader’s spine. Nina has secrets she isn’t sharing.
Russian professor, poetry scholar, and widower Grigori Solodin teaches in Boston. Grigori is in possession of an exquisite amber necklace, and he believes it is a key to his past. He carries a great sorrow, and an unrelieved burden that is about to unload in some penetrating and provocative ways. The mournful professor, now fifty, has not reconciled his past, and he feels he has no future to look forward to beyond academia.
Cut to fifty years ago, in post World War II Russia, as Nina Revskaya matures from new recruit to prima ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet House in Moscow. Her best friend and fellow ballerina, Vera, has equal but opposite qualities, and they complement each other as confidants and cohorts. Nina is a short, classic beauty with jewel-green eyes, while Vera is tall, willowy, and soulful-eyed. Vera lost her parents to the penal labor camps, but found a maternal comfort with Nina’s mother. Nina fell in love with poet Viktor Elsin, while Vera’s more complicated affair with Viktor’s comrade, Jewish composer Gersh, is fraught with problems of safety and security.
To be paranoid in Soviet Russia is to be smart and sensible. Anything you say or whisper could be twisted and held against you. An equivocal or questionable comment against communist Russia has serious penalties. Many comrades were recruited by the Committee to secretly write reports on people close to them. Citizens often capitulated in order to be protected. Gersh is not a good communist, and thus is targeted as someone to be watched.
As the story moves back and forth from modern-day Boston to the oppression in Russia, the tension builds to a sweeping but predictable climax. Despite the red herrings and complex web of clues, I guessed the outcome early in the book. However, the joy of reading the novel resides in Kalotay’s prose, polished as a smooth stone and as variegated as fine agate. Her landscape scenes are cinematic and spectacular, from the white snowbanks of Moscow to the blizzards of Boston.
When you attend a performance of Swan Lake, you know how it evolves and how it ends. You listen for the mastery of Tchaikovsky’s music, you gaze at the stunning sets and costumes, and you feel the visceral, emotional thrill of the dazzling dance. Kalotay’s book stole me away from my everyday life with its balletic achievement of scenic beauty, lyrical writing, and universal themes. Wrap up in a warm blanket in the dead of winter and curl up by a window seat in the middle of the day, and get carried away for the rest of the night.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 66 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011)|
|REVIEWER:||Betsey Van Horn|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Daphne Kalotay|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
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