Thursday, January 13, 2011

Russian Winter

Russian Winter: A Novel by Daphne Kalotay
HarperCollins, 2010

This is the kind of book you just sink start reading and don't want to stop. Russian Winter, at its most basic, is the story of a famous ballerina who used to dance at the Bolshoi, Nina Revskaya. As she prepares to auction off her impressive jewelry collection, she is flooded with memories of her life in postwar Russia. The book weaves these memories into her present-day life in Boston. Also woven into the novel are the stories of the young woman who works at the auction house that is auctioning the jewels, and a professor, who translated the poetry of Nina's deceased husband. Further tying the stories together is a necklace belonging to the professor, that matches a bracelet and earrings in Nina's collection.

The character development is wonderful and so real, and the writing is just beautiful and descriptive. Here's an example:
"And so this is a month of perfection, of leisurely freedom, of lazy afternoons spent on the terrace in long, wandering debates that spin off into the air without conclusion. Wildflowers sweeten the air, and butterflies tumble by..." (p. 226)

A story of secrets, of a time in Russia when one could never quite be certain who to trust, a tale of longing to know the truth of one's past, of love and forgiveness, this is not to be missed. It's certainly set the bar high for all other books I read this year; it will definitely be one of my favorites. And while I don't usually read short stories, I'm absolutely going to read Kalotay's Calamity and Other Stories.

On her website, you can read an excerpt of the book, and a interesting behind-the-book interview where Kalotay talks about spending years doing the research for this book - it certainly shows.

Edited to add: Reviewed from library copy

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