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Russian Winter: A Novel Paperback – April 5, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 340 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As she nears 80, former Russian prima ballerina Nina Revskaya—now pain-ridden and confined to a wheelchair in her Boston brownstone—puts her jewelry up for auction, little realizing that the provenance of one of the pieces will uncover long-hidden secrets. Kalotay’s narrative moves effortlessly between mid-twentieth-century Russia—detailing Revskaya’s rise to prominence as “The Butterfly”; her passionate love for her husband, poet Viktor Elsin; and her defection to the West—and contemporary Boston, where widowed academic Grigori Solodin, translator of Elsin’s poetry, who feels a connection to Revskaya, is helped in his quest to identify his birth parents by auction house associate director Drew Brooks. Kalotay (Calamity and Other Stories, 2005) has created appealing, well-rounded characters in well-researched settings, notably in capturing the fear, deprivation, and rampant suspicion of the Stalin era and its effect on artists. Although the book’s heft and jacket illustration suggest a tome, this is a briskly paced, fresh, and engaging first novel dealing with the pain of loss and the power of love. --Michele Leber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A satisfying mystery with a finely drawn plot.....  The secrets at the heart of the novel are treated as delicately, and guarded as carefully, as the precious stones at the story's centre, and only revealed at the novel's satisfying end." -Times Literary Supplement

"Russian Winter ... is an impressive debut: intelligent, moving, and flitting seamlessly between the artistic salons of Soviet Russia and the Boston of today." --The Guardian

"Each character has a petrified secret. The interlocking plots--the present alternates with Revskaya's youth--build to harrowing betrayals, showing how Soviet Russia was 'rearranged to discourage love for anything other than one's country.'" --The New Yorker

"You will be awake until 4 a.m. reading Daphne Kalotay's debut novel.... [Kalotay] unfurls the plot exquisitely, inching together her three main characters, each trapped, as are the insects in Nina's amber, in their respective stases.... [She] is a spectacular writer: precise, alert, full of movement and air." --The Oregonian

"A suspenseful, elegant novel whose grace matches that of the ballerina whose story lies at its heart." -- Lilith

“An exceptional debut novel. . . . Delving into Nina’s life with the Bolshoi Ballet, her life among the Soviet Union’s artist community and her escape from the Stalinist regime add glamour and historical flavor to this novel of secrets, intrigue and wonderfully described priceless gems.” (USA Today)

“With sure and suspenseful artistry, Daphne Kalotay intersperses the unfortunate and tortuous histories of Nina, Elsin, and their artist friends with new discoveries and disclosures. The several stories draw together in a conclusion that is surprising, fitting, and satisfying.” (Boston Globe)

“[A] magnificent tale of love, loss, betrayal and redemption. . . . The emotional center of the book holds everything together. . . . [A] final riptide of revelations leaves the reader profoundly moved.” (Washington Post Book World)

“This tale of a Russian ballerina who defected to Boston is a history lesson inside an evocative novel about art and betrayal.” (O magazine)

“Part romance, part mystery, this elegant debut captures the danger—and refuge—of love in Stalin’s era.” (Good Housekeeping)

“RUSSIAN WINTER. . . is engaging and affecting. It could well be the debut novel of the year.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“A complex story that, in the end, boils down to the simplest of elements: love, fear, disappointment and loss. An auspicious first novel, elegantly written and without a false note.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Kalotay has created appealing, well-rounded characters in well-researched settings. . . . This is a briskly paced, fresh, and engaging first novel dealing with the pain of loss and the power of love.” (Booklist)

“Kalotay has brought to life hidden worlds with the verve of an expertly executed tour jeté.” (Maclean's)

“Daphne Kalotay captivates in a soaring debut novel. An elegant, compelling puzzle of family, memory and solitude that brings to life modern-day Boston and postwar Russia through a profound love story. Graceful, moving and unexpected.” (Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club)

“Tender, passionate, and moving, Daphne Kalotay’s debut novel about ballet, jewels, love and betrayal is also a delicious form of time travel. I loved it.” (Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061962171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061962172
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (340 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a while. The story was lovely in its simplicity, every description dripping with meaning without being overly sentimental or pedantic. The whole way through I marveled at the language. Despite its length, the book moved at a swift pace. The plot was not one of action, but still I hardly wanted to put the book down. This is masterful writing.

The portrayal of Nina's past in Soviet Russia was fantastic. I have studied the Soviet Union quite a bit, particularly through the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Kalotay did a good job portraying the way Soviet citizens likely felt about their lives. She shows the reverence for Stalin, even in the worst times. Never once does Nina see him as anything but a savior; the problems come from others and he does not know. Shocking though that may be, anything else would probably have been inaccurate. The faith that she had in the country and the small things that lead her to question that are done well. Kalotay confronts rough issues with subtlety, with no overarching need to make her point clear by bashing you over the head with it.

I recommend this one extremely highly (in case that wasn't clear from the above). Do yourself a favor and read this.
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Format: Hardcover
There are some books that, when you first sit down with them, you're unsure of what is going to happen. Will you fall in love with - or even like - the characters? Will the story move you, or is it simply a way to pass time? Will the tale itself briefly amuse, or will it haunt you like a ghost of the past?

These were my concerns when I first began reading Daphne Kalotay's "Russian Winter". Ostensibly, the book is about th auction of a jewelry collection that belonged to famed ballerina Nina Revskaya. Throughout the novel, the lot numbers detail several important pieces, and the most hyped items are an amber necklace, bracelet, and earrings. However, this is not so much a tale of a jewelry sale as it is a tale about life, love, struggle, betrayal, and the determination of the human spirit. There are two main stories at work here: Nina's life in Stalinist Russia just after World War II as a dancer for the Bolshoi Ballet, and Gregori Solodin's struggle to find out about his past in twenty-first century Boston. We also see Nina as an old woman in Massachusetts, preparing to sell her collection, and learn of Drew Brooks, a young woman from the auction house who is looking to answers for the jewels' secrets.

The book often jumps among all of these stories, and initially I was frustrated by this. I was far more interested in Nina's life in the USSR than any of the other elements. I was fascinated by her life as a dancer, the bleak yet ignorant picture painted of Soviet Russia, the struggles she simply assumed were "normal" in postwar Europe. Her family and friends are so vivid I could see them in my mind, hear their voices, and yet I had a sense of foreboding, as the novel makes it immediately clear that Nina defected to the West in the early 1950s.
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Format: Hardcover
Russian Winter is an engrossing fiction novel from Daphne Kalotay that combines personal history with notorious events in human history. Flashbacks from Stalin-era Russia combine with the modern life of a Russian defector, Nina Revskaya, once famous as a Bolshoi ballerina. As she enters her final years, she decides to have a Sotheby's-style auction house sell her gems...purportedly to donate the funds to the Arts. However, it soon becomes clear that she has more personal reasons to divest of the jewelry-some of the pieces harbor memories that are too painful to hold on to.

In the meantime, Drew, the auction house assistant, is charged with the task of determining the provenance of the pieces. A mystery arises as a new pendant is anonymously donated...one that would appear to be linked with Nina's set. The significance is clear: there's more to the story than Nina is willing to reveal. And it is the verification of the jewels history that becomes a story of assumptions and lies, and the betrayals that come as a result from them.

The story was well paced, and plot twists developed that kept the mystery going. I also found the in-depth portrayal of the auction house's job of verifying historical jewelry fascinating. However, I had a few issues with the substance of the novel overall. One, I got the impression almost that a formula was being followed...'reveal this much detail at a time, then hold back, move on, and sprinkle foreshadowing liberally'. It worked, but once completed, the novel felt a bit manipulated. Another thing was I think the author wanted to show two powerful, independent women in action; and yet, both women (Drew and Nina) lacked warmth and were really kind of boring.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The cover of Russian Winter beguiled me, but did not answer the many questions that hammered at my brain as Nina's story unfolded. I paid diligent attention to the carefully spun-out clues in the novel and was spellbound until the end. Sometimes we savor a book--read a bit, then put it away until tomorrow so that it may be pondered. Not so with Russian Winter. I was swept away and contentedly disconnected from the rest of my life for the hours I spent within its pages.

I reveled in author Daphne Kalotay's use of language. She juxtaposes present day Boston with post WW II Soviet Union where artists struggle with their private turmoil and fears behind the iron curtain. Her flashbacks are expertly cast in the present tense. So much of what is beautiful in this world--ballet, poetry, music, love, creative expression, hope--is intertwined with betrayal, fear, loss, poor health. Detailed descriptions of the jewelry to be auctioned are uniquely placed between chapter headings. Kalotay has a way of bringing simple images to life with phrases like "a squadron of hairpins."

"Dancers must remember everything." Retired ballerina Nina Rebskaya, who has defected to the United States and seeks to sell her jewel collection to benefit the Boston ballet, suffers such a fate. Nina, who visualized the optimum performance of the next step in her choreography as she felt the floor beneath her feet, becomes the retired benefactress, body rigid and wheelchair-bound, tracing the lines of the past in her memories.

The career of a ballerina is ephemeral but the value of a gemstone endures. Intrigue seduces. Art is transforming. Ponder all of this in the captivating novel, Russian Winter.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
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