Friday, September 10, 2010
When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.
It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of the theater; that she fell in love with the poet Viktor Elsin; that she and her dearest companions—Gersh, a brilliant composer, and the exquisite Vera, Nina’s closest friend—became victims of Stalinist aggression. And it was in Russia that a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape that led Nina to the West and eventually to Boston.
Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.
Interweaving past and present, Moscow and New England, the backstage tumult of the dance world and the transformative power of art, Daphne Kalotay’s luminous first novel—a literary page-turner of the highest order—captures the uncertainty and terror of individuals powerless to withstand the forces of history, while affirming that even in times of great strife, the human spirit reaches for beauty and grace, forgiveness and transcendence.-- Harper
If you saw my Book Club Exchange post from yesterday, then you already know how much I loved RUSSIAN WINTER by Daphne Kalotay. There is no doubt that this novel will be on my "Favorites of 2010" because it encompassed everything I love about a good book -- a fascinating story, interesting characters, a little intrigue as well as some romance. I hesitate to even write a review because I don't really think I can do justice to this book -- I just enjoyed it so much!
I knew that RUSSIAN WINTER sounded like a book that I'd enjoy, but I was a little concerned when I heard so many good things about it. My expectations were set pretty high, and sometimes, I feel let down when I hear too many good things. That certainly wasn't the case with RUSSIAN WINTER. In fact, I think I enjoyed it even more than I was hoping -- if that makes any sense!
It's difficult for me to identify my favorite thing about RUSSIAN WINTER because it keeps changing depending on the hour; however, I definitely loved all of the historical information about Communist Russia. I have always been interested in the politics of Russia during this time, and I thought Ms. Kalotay did a fabulous job with the details. However, I also thoroughly enjoyed all of the specifics on the Bolshoi Ballet as well as the insights into the lifestyles of artists during this period.
In addition to all of the history that I just loved, I also enjoyed the present day story that took place in Boston. I liked the aspect of the story which dealt with the auction of Nina's jewelry, but I also loved Grigori's story and the mystery surrounding his childhood. I admit that I wasn't totally shocked when the pieces of this story starting falling into place, but I was surprised with how the author got there. Just when I thought I had figured something out, something would occur in the story (either in the present or the past) that would make me rethink my conclusions.
I also loved the characters in this novel, and by that, I don't mean that I necessarily loved each character, but I loved how they all fit together in this story. I found Nina to be fascinating and extremely complex, and my heart definitely went out to Grigori. What most surprised me was how interesting I found the supporting characters to be. I appreciated Nina's friends and fellow dancers as well as her husband, but I thought Gersh, a Jewish composer, to be the most intriguing. I actually think Gersh's story was so interesting that he could provide enough material for an entire novel!
I was fortunate enough to "meet" Daphne Kalotay at ALA last summer when I stood in line to get an autographed ARC of RUSSIAN WINTER. Of course, I was excited to meet her and I told her I was really looking forward to her novel; however, I now appreciate the experience ever more. I can't rave enough about Ms. Kalotay and her storytelling abilities -- you already know I found the story to be entertaining. But the bigger surprise for me was how beautiful her writing was. The descriptions of Russia were so vivid that I could picture everything clearly; and the way she tied the stories and the characters together was just so impressive. I loved how she went back and forth between not only the various characters' stories, but also the past and present; and I thought her transitions were smooth and seemed almost effortless. This story just unfolded so beautifully!
I've already told one of my book club members how much I enjoyed RUSSIAN WINTER. I think many book clubs (including my own) would love this book and find so much to discuss. I was excited that there is already a reading guide available which explores many of the themes that I found so interesting in this novel. Some of the topics for discussion include friendship, Communism/politics, love, sacrifices, betrayal, art/ballet, prejudices, persecution, and secrets. Believe me when I say that there is no shortage of things to talk about. (And since much of the book takes place in Russia, you can always serve some caviar and vodka!)
I'm sure you can "feel" my enthusiasm for RUSSIAN WINTER after reading this review. I truly found it to be a very special book -- one that I didn't want to end. I could go on and on about this novel, but instead, I'll just leave you with this -- READ THIS BOOK!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
Giveaway alert: Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of RUSSIAN WINTER to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below. I will be accepting entries until September 23rd at 11:59 p.m. ET and I will notify the winner the following day. Contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!