“Probably that sliver of doubt was always with her, lodged inside her, as it was inside everyone, about everybody else”
One-time prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet Nina Revskaya, now wheelchair-bound in Boston, decides to sell her impressive jewellery collection for the benefit of the Boston Ballet Foundation. As she looks at the treasures of her past, she recalls her life on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Drew Brooks, in charge of the auction, pries deep into Nina’s life with the help of the obsessive Professor Solodin to try to add some historical colour to Nina’s precious jewels.
I write this review having just finished the book this morning and mostly read it solidly, straight through. I’m left with a feeling of enduring, beautiful sadness. Kalotay has crafted a mystery of sorts (why did Nina leave? Why is the professor so convinced that he has a connection to her? Why is she selling the jewellery?) and maintains it with the suspense of the threat of arrest for political dissent in Stalinist Russia. Yet it is the personal tragedies that are most haunting: the tragedy of Nina’s friend Vera, her parents shipped off to who knows where. Of Viktor, forced to compromise his artistic ideals in order to survive. Of Gersh, forced to the same, but refusing. Of Zoya and her unrequited love. The ending packs the biggest punch, as the true tragedy of Nina’s escape from Russia is revealed, both to Nina herself and to the reader.
I was surprised to see that Kalotay does not have a background in ballet; she has clearly done her research well and has some good contacts. Similarly, her research on gemstones and auctions is clearly displayed but fortunately not in depth, or the story could quickly get bogged down. I was also rather pleased that the connection between Grigori and Nina has a serious twist in it – for it to be what the reader easily assumes during the main part of the book would have been saccharine.
Nina is an excellent lead character; one empathises and acknowledges her struggles, but her flaws are also clear. Her pride and stubbornness are occasionally frustrating when the reader knows what is going to happen anyway, but she is a well-crafted and consistent protagonist. Solodin’s story had a few too many loose threads, or rather, Kalotay tries a little too hard to make him interesting. Recently deceased wife, potential for a scandalous love affair, unclear parentage, evidently interesting up-bringing; it feels like the novel was supposed to be more balanced towards Solodin and the editorial red pen was uneven in its application, leaving the Solodin storyline rather bare and Nina’s over-developed by comparison.
This was a highly enjoyable debut novel, “intelligent chick lit”, and I look forward to reading more of Kalotay’s work.
I read this book as part of a blog tour organised by TLC Book Tours; watch out for others’ thoughts on Russian Winter.
Monday, February 6th: She Reads Novels
Thursday, February 9th: Fleur Fisher in her world
Tuesday, February 14th: DizzyC’s Little Book Blog
Wednesday, February 15th: Pining for the West
Thursday, February 16th: Chuck’s Miscellany
Monday, February 20th: one more page
Tuesday, February 21th: I hug my books
Wednesday, February 22th: The Sweet Bookshelf
Thursday, February 23rd: A Book Sanctuary