Summery: 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. – Harper Collins
I was really fascinated by this look into a place and time I didn’t know a lot about. Life for an artist in Stalinist Russia was one of privilege and fear. The knowledge that no one was ever safe and there was nothing to be done about it was really striking. The day Nina auditions for a place in the Bolshoi Ballet academy her best Vera’s parents are “taken away”. Vera goes to live with her grandmother and Nina goes on to become a lead dancer in the Bolshoi. Years later, after Nina has met, fell in love, and married the poet Viktor, Vera returns and she and Nina renew their friendship. Kalotay gives the reader a real sense of what it must have been like to live under the pressure of Stalin’s rule. When the story of Nina and Viktor, Vera and the troubled composer Gersh, and Gersh’s wife, government official Zoya comes to it’s conclusion I understood how destructive the regime was to these relationships.
What I enjoyed most was Kalotay didn’t just tell the story of Nina and her life in and after Russia. She also did a marvelous job telling the story of Drew and how she came to be working with Nina. I loved that Drew’s grandparents story was told so well, it was one of my favorite parts of the book. Then there’s Grigori’s story and how he’s connected to Nina. While not a complete surprise I did like how it all wrapped up. The connections between all of the character past and present worked well. And when Nina comes to understand the true events of the past I was really much more moved than I thought I would be.
Russian Winter supplied me with three weeks of Wondrous Word Wednesday words (there’s one more for tomorrow) with all it’s Russian words, ballet, and jewelry terms. There was some fascinating information about Baltic Amber and a lot of behind the scene detail of the ballet I found very interesting.
Daphne Kalotay’s first book is a collection of stories named Calamity and Other Stories that I had never heard of but I was very well reviewed. After reading Russian Winter I really want to read more of her work.