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
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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.