Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

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Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: An inter-generational, inter-country novel with intrigue and dark secrets at its heart. Nina, once a famous ballerina with the Russian Bolshoi Ballet is nearing the end of her life and has decided to sell some pieces of jewellery via auction - opening up a veritable can of worms for several individuals.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 978-0099553243

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The novel's structure goes back and forth from the past to the present day. The book opens with Nina, now elderly, in pain and in a wheelchair: waiting to die basically. And even although she's lived an interesting life, now all she has for company is a daily home-help. I was struck straight away by how prickly Nina is and I could feel all those emotions seething underneath the surface. So the question is - why has she decided to sell some of her exquisite jewellery. Is it to help pay the bills? Or some other reason? We find out by degrees.

And as the professional conversation with a member of the auction house gets underway, Nina's passion for dance, for ballet in particular is obvious. It's in her very bones. Even as the young woman (Drew) conducts the session, Nina is pleased to see that she's maintaining good posture etc. And here you get the impression that the elderly Nina bemoans all modern, young people for their rounded shoulders and shuffling. Nina's maxim has always been that you must (in silence) ... suffer for beauty. The reader finds out that she suffered greatly over the years for her art ... dancing on sprained toes and rheumatic hips, through pneumonia and fever. The image conjured up is dreadful.

Then we jump back in time - and also place, to Russia with its biting cold and its poverty, its Russian Winter which gives the book its title. We also get a glimpse of the Russian people - cowed and always hungry - and so much more. Kalotay, over the course of the novel, gives her readers big, narrative chunks of Russia in Stalin's era. It's like a social history of sorts but because it's broken down into the various parts of the story, it works.

We're given details of Nina as a young girl. Living with her mother in bare, cramped rooms and yes, her mother's life seems to be one long queue for the basics. Nina is gifted and also disciplined but even so, her daily life as a ballerina is far from glamorous. She's to endure unheated training rooms, a poor diet, bloody feet (in the literal sense) and aching limbs for most of the time. And as the plot develops we see the elderly Nina torn, almost driven insane by certain shady aspects of her past. I could, again, feel her inner torment. Her jewels are causing quite a stir. The auction house is pressing for more and more details of their history. But will Nina tell or remain quiet? It all adds up to a nice sense of suspense.

The young Nina, as I mentioned earlier, lives under the Stalin regime. I think most of us can guess that it's not a bed of roses. The threat and menace of those times is palpable. People 'go missing' on a regular basis. No questions asked. Kalotay gives up plenty of illustrations of these unsettling episodes. And Nina - the rising star - does not enjoy the caviar and vodka lifestyle that we might imagine.

There are complex and intriguing links between Nina and several other characters in the book, particularly a middle-aged academic, also with a 'past.' It all makes for an engrossing read. I was also drawn into the Russian part of this novel and the way of life all those years ago. The jewellery aspect is a nice, effective touch to what is a satisfying read. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

It's another time and another place but if this book appeals then you might also enjoy Lovers' Hollow by Orna Ross.

Buy Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay at Amazon.com.


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