08 September 2010

Review: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay is a beautifully written novel about the Soviet Union after the war, the Bolshoi Ballet, defection to the West, a jewelry collection, a foreign language professor, an auction house employee, and the mysterious connections among all.

At the center of the book is Nina Revskaya, whose eighty-something body has given in to the years of abuse suffered by a prima ballerina. Nina, accepted by the Bolshoi when she was just a little girl, lived a sheltered life, even for postwar Moscow. Her innocence--both physically and politically--comes to end when she meets and marries the famous poet Viktor Elsin. The how and why Nina ends up in Boston are tantalizingly revealed in a series of flashbacks.

In the present day, Nina arranges to sell her valuable jewelry collection, donating the proceeds to the Boston Ballet Foundation. All Nina wants is to makes sure her beloved ballet is well taken care of; she has no intention of stirring up the past and revealing the true story behind her defection, her jewels, and her life before America.

Kalotay carefully and subtly draws us into the varied aspects of Nina's world. We sense the quick change from laughter to fear after a small gathering in a Moscow apartment discovers a government wire tap in the ceiling. We can easily imagine the sights and smells in the backstage dressing room and understand the odd mix of friendship and competition between the dancers as they prepare for a performance. We reach out to Nina, alone in her living room, wheelchair pulled up to the window, as she looks out over a snow-covered Boston and thinks of the winter beauty of her native Russia.

Kalotay's prose should be savored, allowing the complex story to slowly unfold. Russian Winter will appeal to fans of historical fiction with a bit of mystery and to anyone interested in Russia, the ballet, and jewelry. In many ways, I feel as if this novel had been written just for me.

Russian Winter at Powell's
Russian Winter at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061962165

YTD: 80
Challenges: Women Unbound, Historical Fiction, 100+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

27 comments:

Kaye 9/8/10, 8:14 AM  

I enjoyed this one as well. It's hard to really imagine how Russians must have lived in such fear during the Stalin years.

S. Krishna 9/8/10, 8:42 AM  

Your summary of this book is so much better than mine! As you know, I really enjoyed this book too. Great review.

bermudaonion 9/8/10, 9:10 AM  

Wow! I need to start this book soon!

nat @book, line, and sinker 9/8/10, 9:14 AM  

with a beautiful cover and such an intriguing review, you've hooked me--and i'm not much for russian lit. i have a book that is set in russia languishing on my nightstand and you've inspired me to pick it up! great review, as always.

Nise' 9/8/10, 9:32 AM  

The cover had me intrigued and after reading your thoughts, this is definitely my kind of book. Wonderful review.

Care 9/8/10, 10:49 AM  

This sounds like it has a great sense of place. I admit that the Boston settings have me curious.

Buried In Print 9/8/10, 11:52 AM  

Isn't that the most wonderful feeling, when it seems that a book has been written just for you!

nomadreader 9/8/10, 12:04 PM  

I'm really looking forward to reading this one, but for some reason, when I picture myself reading it (am I the only one who does that?), I see myself snuggled up on the couch with snow on the ground. I'm waiting until November (snow willing) to savor this one!

Julie P. 9/8/10, 12:33 PM  

Still need to write my review, but it's one of my favorite books for 2010!

Belle 9/8/10, 1:52 PM  

This is a strange kind of day for me. I'm not really a fan of historical fiction, but yours is the second review of a historical novel that has me scribbling the name down in my list!

Robin McCormack 9/8/10, 3:14 PM  

Between you and M.J. Rose, you both have sold me on the book. Checked it out on Amazon and looks really good.

Michele at Reader's Respite 9/8/10, 5:00 PM  

Oh gosh, this looks fabulous!

Stephanie 9/8/10, 5:10 PM  

With each review I read, I am more convinced I should read this one ASAP. I may even go the extra step and buy it!

Sandy Nawrot 9/8/10, 6:34 PM  

You need an award for writing such an eloquent review. Excellent! And the book, with the intriguing flashbacks, the secrets revealed and the time period, seems like a must-read. I hope it throws itself into my path.

softdrink 9/8/10, 9:00 PM  

It sounds like I should toss Dostoevsky aside in favor of this one!

Amused 9/8/10, 10:19 PM  

I just read another book set during this time period and now I am fascinated by it. Looking forward to checking this one out!

Beth Kephart 9/9/10, 6:42 AM  

Gosh. I just saw this title, about an hour ago, and wondered about it! Thank you for this fabulous, heartfelt review.

Molly 9/9/10, 7:02 AM  

I have a dream of setting aside some time and focusing on Russian literature for a while. Not only do I want to read the classics (for the first time) but I would also like to read a couple modern day tales as well. What Happened to Anna K is one, and now Russian Winter is another.

Beth Hoffman 9/9/10, 9:21 AM  

Loved your review! I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Meghan 9/9/10, 1:53 PM  

I adore finding books that feel as if they were written just for me. This one sounds really excellent and I can't wait to get my copy!

Marg 9/9/10, 10:39 PM  

This one caught my attention as soon as I first heard about it, because it sounds exactly like a book that matches my reading tastes. I am still waiting for it to come in at the library though. Hopefully soon.

healy 9/9/10, 11:03 PM  

I read this book and RUSSIAN WINTER was a trip I would take again and hope that many more readers will get the chance. Daphne Kalotay is a force that the literary world had best be prepared for. I know I will be waiting eagerly for her next work.

Jen - Devourer of Books 9/11/10, 9:33 AM  

I'm dying to read this. I guess I need to figure out which imprint is going to release this in paperback and start stalking it there now!

kay - Infinite Shelf 9/13/10, 12:53 AM  

Reviews like yours make me eager to read this one. It just sounds like an amazing read!

Kris 9/13/10, 1:42 PM  

This one sounds wonderful. Yet another I'm going to have to look for. haha

Barbara 4/29/11, 9:59 AM  

This sounds absolutely wonderful, a must read for me.

Serena 5/10/11, 9:49 AM  

This books sounds fantastic. I'll have to check out the paperback version.

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