Reviewed by Simone
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay is the story of Nina, a former Prima Donna at the Russian ballet, who has fled from Russia and now lives in the United States. She has had a tough life in Stalinist Russia, and after some dramatic events she leaves the country, and also the love of her life, Viktor.
The novel revolves around the origin of the jewelry that Nina has now offered to an auction house. She has decided to close a chapter in her life by selling them, but why is she doing this? How did she get this jewelry? Who gave the jewelry to her and what was the occasion? The unravelling of the answers to these questions allows the reader to learn all about Nina’s fascinating life.
The story starts with Nina being visited by the lady from the auction house, Drew, who herself is curious about the story of the jewelry. After this intriguing first setting the story switches back to Moscow, where Nina, at age nine, and her friend Vera are auditioning for a ballet school. The novel continues going back and forth in this way, where the reader learns more about Nina’s past life, at the same time learning more about the present day situation and what the auction sets in motion for Drew. The auction also sets something in motion for the man Grigori who tries to get in touch with Drew and Nina regarding the sale of the precious stones, because he knows more about the origin of the jewels…
This novel was such a joy to read. Both the present day story and the Russian story were very well written, and I wanted to know more about both these story lines. I loved the descriptions of Nina’s ballet life, the hardship she endured, and also the descriptions of the tough lives many characters had in Stalinist Russia. The poverty and the secrecy were almost tangible.
The details of the day she meets Viktor, and is swept off her feet by him, are simply wonderful. The author is able to describe it in a way that makes you feel just the same as Nina. These first moments with Viktor are a highlight in her life.
The other developments, regarding the secretive mother of Viktor, who is determined to get her to leave, and also the feelings of suspicion for her friend Polina who might be a spy, and of suspicion for Viktor, who has been alone with her friend Vera, all make for fascinating storylines. There is not a dull chapter in this book, not even a dull paragraph: the pages are filled with great fiction!
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