Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

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.

What worked:

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.

Favourite quote:

“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)

Final thoughts:

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 QueueLuxury ReadingnomadreaderA Few More PagesWe Be ReadingBooks Like BreathingChefdruck MusingsBook Addictionred headed book childRedlady’s Reading RoomThe Calico CriticWordsmithsoniaHistorical TapestryMan of la BookIn the Next RoomLife in the Thumb

Recommended review: she is too fond of books

Other reviews:

a book blog of one’s ownBeth Fish ReadsBookfanBooking MamaBoston Book BumsI’m Booking ItKittling: BooksLisa’s Other BookshelfMedieval BookwormMisfit SalonReading the PastRed Room Library S. Krishna’s BooksSophisticated DorkinessThe Black Sheep Dancesthe book nestThe Crowded LeafTottenville Review

Interviews with the author: Man of la BookTottenville Review

Guest posts by the author: Booking MamaBook Reporter


  1. Intriguing book, and I love this format for reviews.

  2. I don't read a lot of historical fiction either, so the fact that you loved this so much makes me think I would too. Fantastic review!

  3. I have this on my bookshelf and need to read it soon. I enjoyed your new review format. It's very fresh and different.

  4. Avis I love the new format. Hope you had a great vacation.

  5. I really like your new format, it works so well. I loved this book. Engrossing is the perfect word to describe it.

  6. I love your new format...can I lift it as long as I credit it back to you???? I absolutely LOVED this book so much...I swear I could see her dancing while I read it!!!

  7. I like the new review format - it makes it easy to see what you liked and didn't like about the book. Of course, I'm glad to see that you generally liked everything! :)

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  8. First - great new review format!

    next - RUSSIAN WINTER, ah....! I loved the way Kalotay took us into Stalinist Russia. What a feel for the oppression, paranoia, and contrasts. The historic storyline was so strong (like you, I don't always need a neat and tidy contemporary romance)

  9. I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction but I really loved this one. I'm glad you liked it.