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.
Published by HarperCollins / Harper, 2010
Challenges: Women Unbound, Historical Fiction, 100+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: ACopyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)