Review: Russian Winter

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Russian WinterRussian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Published by Harper on September 7, 2010
Genres: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 459
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
Goodreads
five-stars

A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.

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.

My own skills lack to sum up this novel in the way that it deserves. This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a while. The story was lovely in its simplicity, every description dripping with meaning without being overly sentimental or pedantic. The whole way through I marveled at the language. Despite its length, the book moved at a swift pace. The plot was not one of action, but still I hardly wanted to put the book down. This is masterful writing.

The portrayal of Nina’s past in Soviet Russia was fantastic. I have studied the Soviet Union quite a bit, particularly through the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Kalotay did a good job portraying the way Soviet citizens likely felt about their lives. She shows the reverence for Stalin, even in the worst times. Never once does Nina see him as anything but a savior; the problems come from others and he does not know. Shocking though that may be, anything else would probably have been inaccurate. The faith that she had in the country and the small things that lead her to question that are done well. Kalotay confronts rough issues with subtlety, with no overarching need to make her point clear by bashing you over the head with it.

I recommend this one extremely highly (in case that wasn’t clear from the above). Do yourself a favor and read this.

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