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Review: Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay

Nina Revskaya, now an old woman, was once a prima ballerina in Moscow at the height of the Soviet Union. Her life revolved around ballet even after she fled the country, when she first danced and then taught others. Nina is now wheelchair bound and finds it incredibly difficult to face her past; still, she decides to auction off all her jewelry, including an amber set that she says belonged to her late husband’s family. Grigory, a professor of Russian literature, has devoted his life to the study of her husband’s work, and has somehow donated the missing piece of the amber set, a gorgeous necklace, to the auction. Will Nina ever be able to face her past and explore the connection that she and Grigory share?

I went into Russian Winter with a mind full of positive reviews; I have heard many amazing things about this book, so it had a lot to live up to. Moreover, I have been in love with Russia for over 10 years now, which means I’m automatically excited whenever a book comes my way set there. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, this book did live up to all of my expectations, because I just loved it and I was completely absorbed in it. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading and completely caught up in Kalotay’s words when I was. This is a book that is certainly worth your time.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the way that Kalotay delved deep into Soviet society to examine just how harmful it was, even to its biggest stars. Nina and many of her friends are prima ballerinas, but their families are far from immune. Her husband, worse, is a writer, and they are constantly walking on eggshells. The threat is always there. At one point Nina and her two friends accidentally venture into west Berlin and are shocked at what they see and the freedoms others experience, which is heartbreaking, but they return because of the threats.

I also really loved the way everything was carefully woven together. We are transported between roughly four stories, three of which are in the present and just one in the past, but each is distinctive and adds substantially to the narrative. I loved modern-day Drew and Grigory’s storylines and their own very twenty-first century battles, illustrating perfectly that even though the world around us has changed, people really haven’t. Grief and longing are still very real emotions and I cared for each and every one of the characters in the book.

Finally, to wrap everything up, there is even a little mystery involved, because it takes a substantial proportion of the book to figure out what actually happened to Nina’s life. We know her husband was killed and she fled the Soviet Union from the start of the book, but the details about the jewelry and her connection to Grigory – why he has the necklace – are only slowly revealed. Tied in with the incredibly evocative writing set in two different winters, this storyline kept me glued to the page and genuinely curious about the lives herein.

Russian Winter is an incredible book, beautifully written with a gripping yet poignant storyline. Highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from the publisher.

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