Many of my favorite books are debut novels. Russian Winter may well be added to that list. This is a sweeping novel of love and betrayal, and mostly about the secrets that result from a tyrannical government.
The novel is set in the Soviet Union during and after World War II, and in modern day Boston. At the heart of the story is ballerina Nina Revskaya.
At the tender age of nine, Nina is enrolled in the Bolshoi ballet school, and quickly rises to stardom. Life in Soviet Russia was difficult, and even the advantages of life as a Prima Dona with the Bolshoi were overshadowed by the terrors of Stalinism. At the height of her career she defects, but never discusses her reasons or her past. Decades later, elderly and crippled, Nina lives in near isolation in Boston. The decision to allow her extensive jewelry collection to be auctioned, to benefit the Boston ballet, brings her hidden past crushing down. Drew Brooks, an associate at the auction house, is determined to make this auction the key to her future, and is willing to dig as deeply as she can to learn the history of the jewels. Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian at a local university, believes that an amber pendent he has is a match to earrings and a bracelet in Nina’s collection. He eagerly wants to see if Nina is the key to his own murky past.
Nina’s story unfolds gradually. Kalotay moves her narrative easily between Soviet Russia and modern Boston; between Nina, Grigori and Drew. Each has their own assumptions of the past, and all are surprised by the truth.
I have to say that the ending of Russian Winter left me wanting more. But it also left me thinking about the book for days. And that may be the mark of truly good writing.
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