Thursday, September 30, 2010
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
"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."- summary from Amazon
First off, this is an adult fiction book, so it's different from what I normally review. In fact, it's very close to literary fiction and far from the adult chicklit of Meg Cabot I usually review when I venture over to the adult side every so often.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. It's on the quiet side and very much a character-based novel but Kalotay makes the prose and characters just so compelling and engaging that it's hard to put the book down. As mentioned in the summary, the main event that sets the ball rolling is Nina setting out to auction off her jewelry collection. It's this one event that triggers these other characters into action- Drew because she works at the auction house and Grigoli because of his mysterious connection to Nina- and also brings up memories of and introspectives about their lives.
The story itself flows easily between three different characters (technically a fourth too, if you count young Nina)- Nina, Drew, and Grigoli- as well as past and present. It sounds like it would be confusing, but within the first sentence of each new section, you know who's being focused on. It's also made easier by the fact that this is written in third person, flitting about between each character's mind and life.
There's also some romance and a mystery going on throughout the book but those aren't really at the forefront. What really takes center stage here is an examination of these characters' lives- how they grew up, their relationships with others, how they got to where they are today, feeling trapped in where they are now, and what they can do about that for the future, among many other things. These are characters I really grew to care about over the 460 page novel (yes, it's a long one, but you barely notice it) and I was sad having to see them go when I turned the last page.
Two style choices I wanted to mention- 1) On the ARC, the edges of the page on the side of the book are kind of tattered and journal-like (I don't really know how to describe it, but if you've seen Radiance by Alyson Noel, the ARC is set up exactly like it, including the cover flaps). I'm not sure if the hardcover will be the same in regards to the page type used, but I so hope it is because it's just so cool! 2) In between each chapter, there's a description of one of the pieces of jewelry being auctioned off as it would appear in the booklet handed out at the auction. I thought that was a really nice touch to the story.
Overall, it's just really an amazing debut that's so well-crafted, heartbreaking, hopeful, funny, and a plethora of other wonderful adjectives. If you're in the mood for an adult read and you love character-based stories, definitely check this one out.
FTC: Received ARC at BEA (signed! The author is also a former teacher of mine when she was the writer-in-residence at my college one year). Link above is an Amazon Associates link; any profit goes toward funding contests.