RUSSIAN WINTER by Daphne Kalotay is a sweeping saga ripe with history, and stunning in its rich characters.
The story begins in Boston, and quickly moves to Russia where we get the rare glimpse into life behind the scenes of the ballet and royalty. How different from life as we know it. I adore peaking around the cover of what has been hidden from us for so long.
The story ebbs and flows between now and then: present day Boston to post-WWII Russia. It is told in the voice of Nina Revskaya, who wowed the Russian ballet. Yes, Nina was a ballerina. And not just any ballerina, a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet in Stalin’s Russia.
Nina falls hard for the poet Viktor Elsin. Viktor comes from a formerly wealthy family. Kalotay gives us the very essence of the word character with Viktor’s mother known is Madame. Such a colorful and unique person with a egregious personality. And her pet bird gives us comic relief just when we need it.
Nina escapes to the west and to Boston, leaving family and friends. She takes only her life and jewelry. Yes, these jewels show up later in quite a meaningful way. I love the attention to different pieces at the beginning of each chapter. Little bits of mystery splattered on the page.
This lovely new literary novel has much to deem it worthy. What a great love story, and mystery, all set in a unique time and place. Speaking of place, Kalotay has done a bang-up job of setting us smack-dab in the middle of Russia during the war. She has added quirky characters that make us think. And the mystery is contagious in its complexity.
When Nina decides in her old age to auction off most of the jewelry, two characters move into the picture and add to the depth of the story. Who are they? How do they fit in? Where do they come from?
I am especially fond of this novel. I was so graciously allowed in on the choosing of the cover for the finished book. Yes, Daphne’s agent so kindly sent me photos of the three covers being considered. The first cover is very prominently displayed at the beginning of this post. It is my favorite and the one I would have chosen if it had been up to me. But, alas, it was not up to me. The cover chosen is the oh-so-lovely one you see with the necklace on backwards. And there it is.
I think Dapne Kalotay has a great career in writing ahead of her. She has taken background from her family who are from Hungary and woven an intricate tale that is very well written and will keep you reading long into the night.