Thursday, May 05, 2011

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay with former ballerina Nina deciding to auction of her incredible jewelry collection for charity. On the surface, it seems it is her way of letting go of the past but instead she is brought back to the story of why she left home and what the jewels mean. Intertwined with Nina's story is that of her husband Viktor a famous poet, his best friend the composer Gersh, and her best friend Vera. Although Russian Winter begins half a century ago, it also tells the contemporary tale of Drew, a young woman organizing the sale of Nina's jewelery, and Grigori, a Russian professor who possess a necklace which seems to belong to Nina's collection. The past and present come together in Kalotay's mysterious debut novel about the things you can't leave behind.

It would be impossible for me to read the story of a Russian ballerina that defected from the USSR and not, on some level, compare it to Dancer by Colum McCann which I read last year. Still, despite the obvious similarities between the basic premise of Dancer and Russian Winter, it is its own unique and richly told story. Russian Winter is certainly historical fiction, but as the novel progresses it becomes clear that it is so much more than that, it is also a love story and a mystery. In fact, it is the love stories and the mysteries which make Russian Winter such an engrossing read. The novel has a rich depth but you aren't overwhelmed by it as the story, in contrast to other historical fiction I've read for example The Fifth Servant, isn't weighed down by history but instead the reader picks up the subtle details while being enthralled with the characters and storylines.

I really enjoyed Kalotay's cast of characters in Russian Winter, and I also loved how well the reader gets a feel for the lack of privacy and other features which defined life for an artist under Stalin's regime. It was interesting to see how even when a character like Nina disagreed with certain policies, she still held out hope that Stalin didn't know what was going on, and if he realized it he could be persuaded to change things. I also liked the inside look at life behind the curtain, everything from the competition to the gossip felt believable, but with its own unique spin because it was taking place fifty years ago. I was actually less interested in the contemporary story, in particular Grigori's quest for love following the death of his wife didn't really keep my attention, although I loved the necklace mystery. As a character, I also found Drew pretty boring, and although it was interesting at times to learn about what goes into setting up an auction for antique jewelry it mostly just felt like it was stalling the story and didn't get me excited and involved the same way the historical storyline did.

Overall, Russian Winter was an uneven but enjoyable novel. There were many components like the backstage look at ballerinas that I loved, but others, such as running an auction, didn't keep my interest. Ultimately Russian Winter is a novel I'd recommend because of the strength and richness of the historical storyline, and I am definitely intrigued to see what Kalotay comes up with next.

Release Date: August 27th, 2010
Pages: 480
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.


  1. Lovely review -- I've seen a few folks say the book didn't entirely work for them -- a bit distant, or aloof -- but otherwise interesting. I've still got it on my TBR but bumped lower -- I've got another dancing novel higher on my queue that I'm hoping is good!

  2. I like that this one includes both a love story and a mystery in addition to being historical fiction.

    Thanks for the review and for being part of the tour. I'm glad that you enjoyed it in spite of the flaws!


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