This week I read Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay. I have been on a roll lately: after many disappointing reads this year, I have been on a streak of fantastic books. :D There are so many things I love about this book: ballerinas, poets, intrigue, and romance, just to name a few. It could also be classified as a historical fiction because part of the plot revolves around artists during Stalin's regime in the former USSR.
Nina Revskaya, a former prima ballerina, defects to the West after she achieves success with the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet. Eventually settling in Boston, Nina decides to sell her extensive jewelry collection at auction and donate the proceeds to the Boston Ballet. One of the most intriguing sets included in the auction is a matching set of amber earrings and bracelet. The set contain specimens: insects that are frozen in time as the resin encapsulates them. Coincidentally, a middle aged Russian Literature and Language professor, Grigori Solodin, also donates an amber pendant with a perfect specimen of a spider and its egg sac to the auction. It appears to be a part of Nina's set, and together the pieces should raise lots of money for the ballet.
Grigori Solodin was born in Moscow in 1950 at the height of Stalin's dictatorship. His mother was supposedly a ballerina with the Bolshoi, and she died from hemorrhaging shortly after the birth. When Grigori was 13, his adoptive parents (scientists who also defected to the West) gave him a purse that contained letters, photographs, and the amber pendant. Nina Revskaya and her poet husband, Viktor Elsin, were in the photographs. Grigori confronted Nina as a young college student, but she would not tell him anything about his mother.
At the Boston auction house, Drew Brooks, a young associate, is writing the auction brochure and supplement. She wants to solve the mystery of the matching amber set, and she presses Grigori and Nina for answers. Nina is obstinate, and the reader does not understand why until much later in the book. Grigori is a bit more helpful, but he is not telling his whole story, either. Grigori becomes increasingly attracted to Drew, which is a huge surprise to him. He has been grieving for his wife, Christine, who died two years ago from cancer. Once Grigori tells Drew everything he knows, Drew has insight that surprises, yet disturbs Grigori about his past. Ironically, Drew also has a strange connection to the story through her Russian ancestry.
As the story weaves back and forth from Stalinist Russia to Boston in the early '00's, Kalotay spins a heartbreaking story of lost friendship, deception, heartbreak, and hope. The book also teaches an important lesson that it is never too late to do the right thing, and that sometimes forgiveness begins with forgiving oneself. This one just might make my short list, although it was published in late 2010. I am just now getting around to reading it!
There is still time to link-up to our What We're Reading Party. Please join Bonnie and me and share your book love!
Until next time...