Book Review: Russian Winter – Daphne Kalotay

Title: Russian Winter: A Novel
Author: Daphne Kalotay
ISBN: 9780061962165
Pages: 480
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

Comments

  1. Perfect review. Now what am I going to write? You’ve said it all.

  2. Perfect review. Now what am I going to write? You’ve said it all.

  3. I agree with Beth, nice review. Stalinist Russia is a crazy time period, and makes for good reading. So much paranoia and treachery.

  4. I agree with Beth, nice review. Stalinist Russia is a crazy time period, and makes for good reading. So much paranoia and treachery.

  5. I’ve been seeing this book around a lot lately but didn’t know much about it until reading your review. I definitely want to read it!

  6. I’ve been seeing this book around a lot lately but didn’t know much about it until reading your review. I definitely want to read it!

  7. I have read several good reviews of this book. I’m anxious to read it. The historical details of Russia and the ballet sound fascinating. Thanks for the review!

  8. I have read several good reviews of this book. I’m anxious to read it. The historical details of Russia and the ballet sound fascinating. Thanks for the review!

  9. I’ve wanted to read this book since I discovered it existed- it sounds so fascinating and I actually like the conceit of Nina discussing the stories behind her jewelry.

  10. I’ve wanted to read this book since I discovered it existed- it sounds so fascinating and I actually like the conceit of Nina discussing the stories behind her jewelry.

  11. I confess: the cover drew me in. It sounds like a wonderful, slow, winter read for me. I’ve put it on request at the library for November. Thanks for the recommendation!

  12. I confess: the cover drew me in. It sounds like a wonderful, slow, winter read for me. I’ve put it on request at the library for November. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. I’ve read several reviews of this one lately but I think yours moves me the most to want to read it. I don’t mind a more contemplative read if I am in the right mood for it.

  14. I’ve read several reviews of this one lately but I think yours moves me the most to want to read it. I don’t mind a more contemplative read if I am in the right mood for it.

  15. This sounds like a wonderful read. I really enjoyed your review, Swapna!

  16. This sounds like a wonderful read. I really enjoyed your review, Swapna!

  17. I have been reading good things about this book, and as it is about a time period and place that I’d love to explore further, it sounds like this one goes to the top of my list. Your review was excellent. I will be looking forward to this book!

  18. I have been reading good things about this book, and as it is about a time period and place that I’d love to explore further, it sounds like this one goes to the top of my list. Your review was excellent. I will be looking forward to this book!

  19. Russian Winter is getting great reviews. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

  20. Russian Winter is getting great reviews. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

  21. I’m really looking forward to this book after reading reviews from you and Julie.

  22. I’m really looking forward to this book after reading reviews from you and Julie.

  23. This is a totally new title for me, but what a great review!

  24. This is a totally new title for me, but what a great review!

  25. Thanks for the review! I have this one on my Wish List!

  26. Thanks for the review! I have this one on my Wish List!

  27. I just finished reading Russian Winter and it left me wanting to read anything by this author. Well written, powerful story & I couldn’t put it down! Enjoy.

  28. I just finished reading Russian Winter and it left me wanting to read anything by this author. Well written, powerful story & I couldn’t put it down! Enjoy.

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