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Dancer: A Novel Paperback – June 23, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A chorus of voices breathe new life into the story of Rudolf Nureyev, one of ballet's greatest performers, in this vibrant, imaginative patchwork of a novel by Irish expatriate McCann (This Side of Brightness, etc.). As a seven-year-old peasant boy in 1944, Rudi dances for wounded soldiers in a hospital ward during World War II. By the mid-1950s he has outgrown life in the tiny Soviet town of Ufa, his unfailing determination to perform (against the stern wishes of his father) driving him into the wider world. It is his stubborn persistence more than his natural talent that distinguishes him, but his first teachers see great potential in him, and he is accepted into a ballet company in Leningrad. He defects to France and later moves on to Italy, where "the ovations become more exhausting than the dance" and he is sucked into the drug and disco culture of the late '70s, even after his partner Margot Fonteyn urges him to stay focused. A relationship with New York gay hustler Victor Pareci allows Rudi to indulge his wildest impulses, but his brashness and self-absorption are tempered when he journeys back to his homeland in 1987 in the touching conclusion. The sections narrated by different characters, some central and some marginal, create a kaleidoscopic effect. Faithfully capturing the pathos and grim poverty of the Soviet Union at mid-century, McCann also reveals a splashy tabloid affinity for the excesses and effects of fame and notoriety. Though the focus here is narrower than that of McCann's previous works, the novel is a lovely showcase for his fluid prose and storytelling skill.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

McCann's latest (after Everything in This Country Must) is hugely ambitious: a fictionalized account of the life of Rudolph Nureyev-the Cold War danseur noble lauded as the world's first "pop star dancer"-as told by those who knew him. Among the narrators are the irrepressible Yulia, the daughter of Nureyev's first ballet teacher; Margot Fonteyn, Rudik's brilliant dance partner; Victor, a gay hustler from the Lower East Side with a penchant for blow, bath houses, and back talk; and others. What emerges is a pastiche of both the man and the myth, the disparate voices combining to create a lyrical and variegated portrait. The narrative technique can, however, be disorienting and even frustrating, as the reader cares more about some narrators than others and is loath to depart from them. McCann also has a somewhat irksome tendency to over-explain moments he should allow to resonate on their own. Still, the work hangs together well and is finally an enormous achievement. Both the Soviet Union of the war-torn 1940s and the displacement and hopefulness of an exile's life are perfectly evoked, and Nureyev-impossible, erratic, and brilliant-is a golden flame that sets everything ablaze. Recommended for all contemporary fiction collections.
--Tania Barnes, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312429029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312429027
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Dancer is an extraordinary novel, affecting me more profoundly than any other novel I have read in a long time. Vivid and hard-edged, rather than lyrical and beautiful, it fuses fact and fiction seamlessly, bringing to life ballet star Rudolf Nureyev and the many secret worlds he inhabited. From his first public performance, when, at the age of five he performed an exuberant dance in a hospital ward for Russian soldiers wounded in World War II, he was considered more athletic than subtle, and as he grew older, his legs were regarded as the source of "more violence than grace."
Nureyev's "wild and feral" style of dance meshes perfectly with McCann's prose. Paralleling the athleticism and drive of Nureyev, McCann's writing is bold and straightforward, characterized by short, powerful, descriptive sentences, often in a simple subject-verb-object pattern. Avoiding all frills and sentimentality, McCann favors strength over lyricism, and power over prettiness.
Through the first person observations of almost two dozen characters who touched Nureyev's life in some way, McCann shines light on Nureyev's personality and his development as a dancer. His family, teachers, lovers, and even a schoolboy bully, a stilt-walker, and the captain of an airplane, who filed an "incident report" about his atrocious behavior aboard a plane, all comment on his actions and the choices he makes, personally and professionally, as his career soars.
The deprivation and sadness experienced by most of these sensitive observers in their own lives contrasts vividly with the excesses and hedonism of Nureyev's adult life and illuminate, without need for authorial comment, his arrogance and boorishness.
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By A Customer on December 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Didn't think I was going to like this book much -- I know nothing about and don't care all about ballet, and all I knew about Nureyev was the popular myth of a life lived extravagantly. I'd read McCann before, and thought he was pretty good, but, basically, couldn't have been less interested in this book. But I bought it because of the quote on the back from Aleksandar Hemon, who's one of my favorite writers (and who I can't imagine writing about dance, but maybe...) and I'd never seen a quote from him before. And I guess this is the way those back-of-the-book quotes are supposed to work: it made me take a chance on something I never would have read -- and it turned out to be the best book I've read in months, easily one of the two or three best I've read this year. I read it basically in one sitting (two days of sustained, obsessive reading). I still don't care about ballet, though I can now imagine caring, but the book's not really or at least not only about dancing. It's about a person named Rudi, a person named Rudi who dances with preternatural grace, but more importantly a person named Rudi who moves through the 20th century on the most astonishing arc of a life, the beauty of his work and the generosity of his spirit changing forever the lives of all the people who witness his progress. But the fact that this arc begins in the cold poverty of WWII Russia and makes it all the way to NYC's coke-fueled, sex-filled, money-burning go-go 80s allows McCann to write about much more than one remarkable person -- he opens the book with some of the best, most visceral writing about war I've ever read, and by the end is writing tender love stories about cobblers and French maids, and he's more than up to all of it. It's a difficult book to describe: it's a book full of so much, and it's all so well done, but in the end it's even more than the sum of those parts. Truly astonishing.
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By A Customer on December 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
So I bought this book at the airport -- assuming it was going to be a present for a member of my family when I got home.
How foolish of me.
I started to flick through the pages on the plane and was immediately sucked in. The way the book starts really is astounding --- and the worlds it cuts through as it continues on its journey is breathtaking.
The story is told from different people's viewpoint of Nureyev's life and what they remember of it. The fabric of it all is of course what they remember is the story -- it may not necessarily be the truth of Nureyev's life.
The characters themselves are so wide and varied that at times you want to rush forward to hopefully meet up with them again. But also at the same point there are times when you want to stop and start the book again --- just to re-experience it.
All in all a really wonderful book --- surely destined for something great.
Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
To be touched by greatness is one thing, to be consumed by greatness is entirely another. "Dancer" would have us believe Rudolf Nureyev was consumed by greatness, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. This fictionalized biography follows Nureyev through most of his life. It gives us the discipline, the passion - the obsessions - necessary to the fame Nureyev achieved. It also gives us the selfishness that comes with obsession, and a taste of the fabulous rewards that can so easily poison genius. But ultimately, nothing was more important than the dance, and this is both the sadness and the splendor of the story. The stage is Nureyev's redemption, but it is also his curse. No matter how much love, joy, or suffering, no matter what riches, life is finally for the stage, and all the rest - grist for the mill. Colum McCann is a fine writer. He writes with formality, but also with a rush of experimentation, giving us the voices and visions, real and imagined, that guided Nureyev's life. "Dancer" is not only a good read, it's also a meditation of one artist's creative process, and therefore an insight into the creative process per se. I reccommend this book whether you are a ballet fan or not - it's an adventure, a romance, and a study, and well worth the time.
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