AUTHOR: DAPHNE KALOTAY
Details: Received for Review from Random House
The blurb on the back:
“When Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, decides to auction her jewellery collection she believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead she is overwhelmed by memories of her life a half-century before.
It was in Russia that she fell in love – and where, spurred by Stalinist aggression, a terrible discovery led to a deadly act of betrayal.
Now living in 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 the auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor who believes the jewels may hold the key to his past. Together these unlikely partners unravel a literary mystery whose answers hold life-altering consequences for them all.”
This is a fascinating story. The parts of the narrative set in 1950’s Moscow had me enthralled. On the service it is just a story about ballet, love and jealousy. It is almost possible for the reader to forget that the ballet and the meeting of two lovers is taking place in an atmosphere of suspicion and constant danger.
And that makes sense, because people living under such circumstances do have jobs they are passionate about, do fall in love and feel all the emotions connected to sharing your life with someone else. They wouldn’t constantly think about the political system under which they happen to be living, they would mostly just try to get on with life and be as happy as they could possibly be.
But between the lines the suppression of people, the fear those people live with and the constant vigilance they had to keep up just to avoid being arrested and exiled are evident.
Once the reader stops to think about it, it becomes clear that the setting and the political situation at the time are as much a character and driving force in this story as the humans involved in the story.
The Bolshoi Ballet made for a very interesting setting, even for me who doesn’t know a lot about and isn’t very interested in ballet. With Nina Revskaya the reader initially concentrates on dance and love only to slowly discover and recognise the evil and duplicity of Stalin’s regime. And through Nina it is possible for the reader to understand why and how a person would be so caught up in their passion that the knowledge of that evil would remain in the background most of the time.
I wasn’t as impressed with the modern day part of the story. It is good, and it provides a great handle for unravelling what exactly happened in the past, and why Nina has stayed silent about that past for so long. The Boston background however, just didn’t provide the same tension or level of interest that Stalin’s Moscow gave.
While Nina and her Victor had me rooting for them from the moment they met, even though it is clear that there won’t be a happy ending, I just didn’t care as much about Grigori and Drew. The magic attraction I could feel between the dancer and her poet wasn’t quite there for the professor and his auctioneer.
Overall though, I really enjoyed this book. With Drew and Grigori I wanted to find out what exactly had happened and why. And I was glad and impressed that, although I had a good bit of the answers figured out before the end of the book, it didn’t work out quite as I had suspected.
I think this is a very impressive debut novel by an author I will be keeping an eye on from now on.