Title: Russian Winter: A Novel
Author: Daphne Kalotay
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Nina Revskaya was a prima ballerina in the Soviet Union before she defected to the United States. Now retired and settled in Boston, she has decided to auction off her family jewels for reasons she has chosen not to make public. Working with Drew, a young woman from the auction house, she reveals as little as possible about herself and her past, though the process brings back memories and she can’t help but lose herself in them.
Russian Winter is a novel that’s very difficult to describe, hence the sketchy summary above. It has so many facets that it’s hard to capture its essence with mere words. Kalotay writes beautifully, with liquid prose that flows very elegantly. Her writing makes this book very easy to read, despite its length.
This book is not one to be read quickly. Russian Winter is definitely a novel to be savored, as the reader winds slowly through Nina’s memories. If you pick this book up looking for a quick, easy read, you will likely be disappointed. It’s worth reading, but it is quiet and contemplative, and thus does not move at a breakneck pace. Kalotay’s writing helps a lot with this, making the novel easy to get lost in.
The details about Nina’s days in the Bolshoi, the Russian ballet, were fascinating. Kalotay does not skimp on the details, and as a result, the reader gets a satisfying glimpse into the life of a ballerina. Nina’s rise through the Bolshoi, and her lifestyle as a result is very well captured. Kalotay also writes about the lurking presence of the Communist Party very well. In every historical scene, the reader can feel Stalin’s heavy hand just a few steps away. People disappearing, the fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person – it’s something that is so foreign to those of us in the United States, yet Kalotay gives the reader a sense of what that must be like. She does a wonderful job balancing the joy of the ballet with the heavy events surrounding Nina.
The modern-day story is also just as interesting as the historical. Nina is clearly hiding information about her past, and it’s satisfying to watch everything unfold, to see that her secret world will come crashing down on her. Drew Brooks and Grigori Solodin, a man who translated the poems of Nina’s husband, work to understand the secrets of Nina’s past, the puzzles behind the jewels she has donated. Though this is the overarching plot of the novel, there isn’t much of a sense of urgency about it until the end, which gives the impression of a meandering plot for the first part of the book.
Russian Winter was a well-written novel that lovers of ballet, Russian history, or historical fiction in general would enjoy. The literary aspect of the novel will appeal to some readers, but might turn off genre historical fiction fans because it gives the book a slippery feel. Still, it’s well-researched and comes to a satisfying conclusion. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what Kalotay does next.