Review: Russian Winter

Posted 26 January, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 12 Comments

Russian Winter
By: Daphne Kalotay
Format/Source: eBook; my copy

A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.

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.

I had been wanting to read this book for so long, yet found it sitting on my eReader for just as long! I had placed it in my Winter TBR list for Top Ten Tuesdays a few months ago in hopes to motivate me to finally read it, and with the reading challenge I’m currently participating in, I finally got around to picking it up 😉

This book is part of the Clean Your Reader – Reading Challenge that I am participating in January 2015.

Wow, why didn’t I get around to reading this book sooner? It’s an amazing historical fiction, but also so much more that I did not expect *hearts* To address the latter and what I mean: the Russian historian side of me is delighted that the “past” portion of this novel is set in the immediate post-war period and is focused on the creative & arts community (both of which were my field of study). The author really captured the situation they were in and the elements that they had to work with–Socialist Realism, the Central Committee deeming whether their work was fitting to the Soviet Union or not, etc.–and the characters of Viktor and Gersh captures the different reactions and sentiments towards such interference in their work and their beliefs as to how their work is being used.

The novel was also really interesting on a number of fronts: the reader has a glimpse into the world of ballet during the Soviet period and the rigours imposed on the ballerinas (this is my first ballet novel, hence the eye-opening response). The work that goes into preparing to auction items–in this case jewellry–was also really interesting. Translation work was also represented through Grigori’s character and occupation as a university professor; again the author captures the precision of the work put into translation quite nicely.

The story itself was very interesting, the contrast between Nina’s memories of the past and what’s happening in the present between an older Nina, Drew who works for the auction house, and Grigori who has a strange connection to Nina. It was interesting to read how similar the three characters were–their comfort in silence, their seeming isolation from everyone else–and how their lives intersected. The mystery behind Grigori’s mysterious connection to Nina is a big arc in the novel, though I admit it did get unnerving a fourth of the way into the story, and even more so towards the end when I could see how everything was hurling towards the climax. Found myself constantly telling the novel “Pleeeeease just tell me how Grigori is related to Nina ;_;” lol. But kudos to the author for building up the mystery the way she did because I was quite gripped by it.

I really enjoyed reading Nina’s flashbacks/past. It encompasses the struggles and the horrors of the Stalinist era as well as how life goes on despite it all. I loved the build-up to her relationship to Viktor and how steady he was even as Nina rose the ranks in the Bolshoi as ballerina. Her friendship with Vera was also interesting and I enjoyed Nina’s interactions with the other artists and performers she meets. Early in the novel I could already feel the hints of the tragedy but man it was heartbreaking when I finally got to the reveal ;_; I know it wasn’t going to be possible for this kind of novel but I just wanted all the characters in her flashback portion of the story to be happy.

Russian Winter overall is a wonderful historical fiction novel. The research was very well done and the characters and overarching themes and mysteries were very interesting to read and unfold. Highly, highly recommended!

Rating: ★★★★★

Visit the author’s official website || Order this book from the Book Depository

Tags: , , ,

12 Responses to “Review: Russian Winter”

  1. Oh man! This was one of the first five books I reviewed when I started blogging. Happy memories, haha.

    But anyway, I’m not much one for the split-time style of historical fiction, but I agree with you that it was very well-done, and the overarching themes between the different characters’ lives kept things cohesive. Plus the mysterious character-relationship was drawn out enough to keep me reading AND (this is the important part), years later I still remember practically every detail of the plot.

    I should re-read this, honestly. If I were drowning in scads of spare time, I would.

    • Nice, that’s really cool! 😀 Definitely a sign of a very good book when you remember details of the plot! 🙂

      I should re-read this, honestly. If I were drowning in scads of spare time, I would.

      So many books, so little time. I totally hear you *nods* (though I have been making a conscious effort to re-read a bit more this year–otherwise I think I would’ve been further along decreasing Mt. TBR in size xD)

    • I hope you enjoy this novel when you get to it! (And yes, the cover is very pretty <3 The other cover is nice too (the woman in the snow), but I like this one more 🙂 )

    • Agreed! It not only adds to your knowledge and piques your interest to learn more, but also definitely adds to the reading experience/the story itself 🙂

  2. Carol L

    Loved your revieww. This is definitely going on my TRL. I love reading historical fiction like this. Thank you for your post. I hadn’t heard of this book before I read your review.
    Carol L

    • Thanks! I hope you enjoy the novel when you get to it. It’s always wonderful to come across really well-written, well-researched historical fiction titles that just grab your attention & your imagination 🙂

  3. I’m loving the Russian history love on this blog of yours, Lianne! I really enjoy historical fiction when I read it, so I’ll be adding this to my TBR as well. Have you read Anna Karanina? I really want to read that classic eventually! 🙂

    • Of course, haha! Got to keep representing my Russian history love & studies even though I’m no longer in the field 😉 But yes, if you love historical fiction and/or a Russian setting, this book is definitely worth checking out. I thought the author did an amazing job in representing the ideas and the role of the intelligentsia during this period of Soviet Rusisan history.

      Yup, I’ve read Anna Karenina years ago (review)! And War and Peace, but I love Anna Karenina a lot more, I thought the character drama was fanastic. Leo Tolstoy really does such a wonderful job in representing such a sweep of Russian society. I hope you enjoy Anna Karenina when you get to it 🙂

      Oh, and if you’re interested in reading more Russian classics, I compiled a recommendation list (here) on who to start with first if you’re interested 🙂

Leave a Reply