Saturday, April 30, 2011
A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.
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.
Interweaving past and present, Moscow and New England, the backstage tumult of the dance world and the transformative power of art, Daphne Kalotay’s luminous first novel—a literary page-turner of the highest order—captures the uncertainty and terror of individuals powerless to withstand the forces of history, while affirming that even in times of great strife, the human spirit reaches for beauty and grace, forgiveness and transcendence.
The cover alone was enough to make me pick up this book, but I also have a fascination with Russian history and a love of ballet. A potential win/win and a book that didn't disappoint.
The narration alternates between Nina in 1950s Soviet Russia and Nina, Drew and Grigori in modern-day 21st century Boston. Grigori has his own secrets and a family ancestry that somehow intertwines with Nina's. As Drew and Grigori follow leads and work to discover the history behind Nina's jewelry, Nina recounts her life as a prima ballerina during Stalin's reign. A time of political intrigue, a time of fear and secrets.
The history of amber was fascinating as was the account of life at the Bolshoi Ballet. Daphne Kalotay did a terrific job of depicting the political climate of Soviet Russia: the fears that someone is always listening or watching, the bright, cheerful atmosphere of the West where you could buy bananas as opposed to the dreary, darkness of the East here you stood in line to buy bread and where people disappeared without explanation, never to be seen again. Her imagery is simple, but vivid.
I do admit to being a bit disappointed in the ending. While very literary, it's as if the door is closed and the conversation I wanted to hear was behind glass. I desired a bit more closure.
I can't describe this as an inherently happy novel, but it's a story about choice and consequence, love and loss and regrets and restitution. This wasn't a fast read for me either. I couldn't just race through it. It's a bit slow at times, but more than that, it's a story to be savored and enjoyed.
Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow. You can purchase your own copy here.
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