Monday, October 25, 2010

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

466 pages
Published in 2010
by HarperCollins Publishers

Russian Winter is hot off the presses as of September 7, 2010. I first learned of it when I read Jennifer's post at Book Club Girl on September 6th. Jennifer's passion and excitement for this book made me want to run out immediately and get a copy to read... Which I nearly did.

The cover art is mysterious and appealing. The plot description (some of which I've posted below) is intriguing. As for the book itself... I found it to be quite a compelling read.

The Plot:
"Set in both modern-day Boston and post-WWII Moscow, Russian Winter the story of Bolshoi ballerina Nina Revskaya as she becomes a member of Stalin's cultural elite before escaping to the West following a terrible betrayal. Decades later, she has decided to auction off her famed jewelry collection—including the rare set of amber that a Boston professor, Grigori Solodin, translator of the works of Revskaya's late poet-husband, believes may hold the key to a long-kept secret. The literary mystery Grigori sets out to solve—with the help of Drew Brooks, a young associate at the Boston auction house—reaches much deeper: to the cost of making art and trying to live and love under circumstances of enormous repression." (Summary courtesy of the author's website.)

My Thoughts:
As I stated above, I found this book to be quite a compelling read. Although to be honest, the first fifty pages were a tad slow, but once I got past them the story took off and I was riveted until the very last page. Russian Winter is suspenseful, it is romantic, and it is tragic. But above all it is a page turner.

I know little of Russian history and literature. I'm ashamed to admit I've only read one Russian novel to date and that was earlier this year (The Brothers Karamazov). It was a difficult read, but it was excellent and it wet my appetite for further books about Russia or by Russian authors.

I realize that Russian Winter is an American novel, but it is more than just another novel by an American author. It is written by a woman who knows her Russian history and who is in fact of Russian decent. (I read somewhere that it took Daphne six years to research and write Russian Winter even though several of the characters or settings are based on family history.) I found the history woven throughout the story not only interesting and educational, but also quite poignant.

The flashbacks to post-WWII Soviet Russia give the reader a glimpse of what life was like for the citizens of Russia during Stalin's reign as dictator and it is a depressing glimpse. What's even more discouraging is the fact that there are people today in America who tout socialist ideas as if they are the long lost answer to the problems in our world. Never mind that these same ideas were tried by Stalin and failed miserably. So much can be learned from the Russian people and their history, from what they endured and what they lost. And in the bleakness of this fact I found what I liked best about this book. From it I found a subtle warning of how difficult times have been and how much we can learn from the past and make something better of the future. How there are wrong choices made, but there is always a chance for redemption.

If you haven't guessed already Russian Winter is a sad story. Yes, it is a story of beauty, but also of ugliness. There is love, but there is also hostility. There is loss, but thankfully there is some redemption. And this is also where I struggled with my own feelings about the story. I really thought I could love this book except for the main character. I hated the decisions that Nina made. I found her to be self-centered and reckless. Decisions she thought harmless ended up with disastrous consequences and the decisions she thought would only impact her own life ended up hurting those she loved. She does get her chance at redemption, but for me it almost felt too late and I couldn't help feeling as if I should grieve for what could have been.

Still, overall I did enjoy Russian Winter. It was unlike any book I've read this year. It was a fascinating story. The plot is basic enough, but the story itself was so much more. I thought I knew where the story was going, but then there was a twist I didn't expect. For a first-time novelist, Daphne Kalotay did well. Her writing is quick-paced and engaging. She drew my emotions into the story to the point where I cared about most of the characters and I was in suspense over the mystery of the jewels.

I have to admit I am a sucker for happy endings and in my opinion Russian Winter fell short of that, but it didn't fall short of telling a realistic story. I hope Daphne Kalotay has much success with this book and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.

Related Links: Interview with Daphne Kalotay
Daphne Kalotay's Website
Russian Winter: Book Tour
Reading Guide


A Faithful Journey said...

I have this on my TBR pile as well as my wishlist on Goodreads. I will still give it a shot since you gave it a pretty good review! :)

Carrie said...

Interesting thoughts! It definitely sounds like it has its high points. I read Crime and Punishment a few years back and really found myself LOVING it so I'd be very up for reading more Russian fiction or fiction set in Russia. I just haven't gotten to it yet.

Anyway, thanks for sharing.

hopeinbrazil said...

Thanks for the interesting view of a book I haven't heard of. I always enjoy your thoughts.

Lisa notes... said...

I've found that so many books I read start out kind of slow like that. Makes it hard to know when to stop reading, for fear that you're on the very verge of it getting better. I bet you did learn more about Russia. It's amazing how even fiction books can teach us so much.