When former ballerina, Nina Revskaya, decides to auction her jewels to raise money for the Boston Ballet Foundation, she finds herself reflecting on her past and remembering things that she would prefer to forget. Her memories take us back to Soviet Russia in the 1940s and 1950s, showing us how she rose to fame with the Bolshoi Ballet and how she met her future husband, the poet Viktor Elsin. However, Nina is reluctant to share these memories with anyone else – not even with Drew Brooks, who works for Beller Auction House and is trying to research the ballerina’s life for the auction catalogue.
We also meet Grigori Solodin, a university professor with a special interest in Viktor Elsin’s poetry. When Grigori donates an amber necklace to the auction that seems to match Nina’s amber bracelet and earrings, Drew is intrigued. Could the three items all belong to the same set? Is there a connection between Nina and Grigori?
I enjoyed this book, although the beginning was quite slow and it took me a while to really get into the story and warm to the characters. It was definitely worth sticking with the novel though, because the second half was much more compelling than the first and once I’d been drawn into Nina’s story I found it difficult to put the book down.
I find Russian history fascinating so it’s not surprising that my favourite parts of the book were the sections set in the past. Daphne Kalotay does a wonderful job of conveying what life was like in Soviet Russia in an era when you never knew who you could and couldn’t trust, when saying the wrong things to the wrong people could put your life at risk. For Nina and her friends, most of them dancers, writers or musicians, it was a dangerous time, with artists not always able to express themselves as freely as they wished. I also loved following the progress of Nina’s career as a dancer. I don’t know very much about ballet, but the descriptions were so vivid I had no problem picturing the ballets being performed onstage, as well as the emotions the dancers experienced before, during and after the performance.
Although Drew’s and Grigori’s stories didn’t interest me as much as Nina’s, the three separate threads were cleverly woven together with links between all three main characters. One of the things that intrigued me about the present day scenes was the question of how Grigori came to possess a necklace matching the other pieces in Nina’s collection, and why she was so determined not to talk to him about it. There was a point where I thought I knew where the story was heading and how it would end – but it turned out to be much less predictable than I’d thought. Some of the plot twists towards the end of the book surprised me as much as they surprised the characters themselves!
So apart from the slow start, I did enjoy Russian Winter. It’s complex, elegantly written and gives insights into three interesting but very different subjects: communism, ballet and jewellery auctions! I thought it was an impressive debut novel and I’ll be looking out for Daphne Kalotay’s next book.
I read this book as part of a blog tour organised by TLC Book Tours. Don’t miss the other stops on the tour to see what other readers thought of Russian Winter.
Wednesday, February 8th: Reading With Tea
Thursday, February 9th: Fleur Fisher in her world
Tuesday, February 14th: DizzyC’s Little Book Blog
Wednesday, February 15th: Pining for the West
Thursday, February 16th: Chuck’s Miscellany
Monday, February 20th: one more page
Tuesday, February 21th: I hug my books
Wednesday, February 22th: The Sweet Bookshelf
Thursday, February 23rd: A Book Sanctuary