I’m trying something a bit different with this review: a new format that I hope will inspire me to write reviews more often!
Opening lines of the book:
“The afternoon was so cold, so relentlessly gray, few pedestrians passed the long island of trees dividing Commonwealth Avenue, and even the little dogs, shunted along impatiently, wore thermal coats and offended expressions.”
Why I read it:
I picked up Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay at Book Expo America last year—someone had abandoned it in the convention centre. Although I was intrigued by the book’s blurb, I don’t read much historical fiction and I’m not that interested in ballet, so the book went to the bottom of my TBR pile, where it probably would have languished for a long time. However, I was inspired to read it when TLC Book Tours announced they would be touring the book.
What it’s about:
Russian Winter goes back and forth in time between modern-day Boston and Stalinist Russia. It’s primarily the story of Nina Revskaya, who at one time was a star of the Bolshoi Ballet. Now in her seventies, Nina has decided to auction her jewellery, including some pieces she brought with her when she defected from Russia. The story is also told from the points of view of Grigori Solodin, a Russian professor who owns an amber necklace that appears to match several of the pieces in Nina’s collection, and Drew Brooks, the associate director who is handling the jewellery auction.
Part literary mystery, part historical adventure and part love story, Russian Winter is absorbing from the very first page. Kalotay’s characters are deftly drawn—all of them feel authentic, from Grigori’s late wife to Nina’s insufferable mother-in-law. The setting comes alive—I felt immersed in Stalinist Russia, an era I know very little about. Nina’s long-buried secrets kept me turning the pages, but I was just as interested in what would happen to Grigori and Drew.
What didn’t work:
I found this book engrossing from beginning to end, so not much didn’t work for me! I did find that Drew’s Russian connection felt a bit forced, like the author was trying a little too hard with the “we’re all connected” angle.
“In that way, it occurred to her, she and [X] had their work in common: behind-the-scenes, unglamorous but necessary, and best undetected. All that effort, to deliver something beautiful to the public. Of course [X]’s work took real talent, while Drew’s mainly took patience. But both were painstaking, and both required great care and the sort of focused attention that, if you allowed yourself to give in to it, and gave in to the great reward of it, became itself a form of devotion.
“The thought made Drew feel less alone, or perhaps more happily alone, sitting there cross-legged on the sofa. It was the comfort of knowing that she was not quite so strange, that there were other people who found delight in private challenges and quiet lives. People who lived in their thoughts as much as in the real, physical world. It was a reminder that true dedication to one’s work, to one’s art, was in fact—no matter how quiet or minor it might seem—a show of faith, a commitment. As for what Jen and Stephen and Kate said, that Drew spent too much time in books and in her mind, well, it was probably true. But it was also true that the internal world was an expansive one, always growing, full of possibilities that the real one did not necessarily offer.” (pp. 269-270)
I highly recommend this book, whether you are interested in ballet or not!
Thank you to Harper Collins for providing me with this book to review. (With thanks to Staci and Ana, who helped inspire my new review format.)
Russian Winter was on blog tour with TLC Book Tours in April and May. Visit these other blogs for reviews:
Library Queue • Luxury Reading • nomadreader • A Few More Pages • We Be Reading • Books Like Breathing • Chefdruck Musings • Book Addiction • red headed book child • Redlady’s Reading Room • The Calico Critic • Wordsmithsonia • Historical Tapestry • Man of la Book • In the Next Room • Life in the Thumb
Recommended review: she is too fond of books
a book blog of one’s own • Beth Fish Reads • Bookfan • Booking Mama • Boston Book Bums • I’m Booking It • Kittling: Books • Lisa’s Other Bookshelf • Medieval Bookworm • Misfit Salon • Reading the Past • Red Room Library • S. Krishna’s Books • Sophisticated Dorkiness • The Black Sheep Dances • the book nest • The Crowded Leaf • Tottenville Review
Interviews with the author: Man of la Book • Tottenville Review
Guest posts by the author: Booking Mama • Book Reporter