The elderly Nina Revskaya has jewels to auction, a life’s worth of beauty and baubles that came as the result of her role as a prima ballerina in Russia and all over Europe. Drew’s job is to make these jewels as attractive to the public as possible, and this means knowing the history, Nina’s history — which she staunchly refuses to hand over. Drew isn’t the only one interested in Nina’s Russian life, however. Grigori, a professor of Russian languages, has his own reasons to believe that the story of one jewel in particular will lead him to the answers to years of questions.
This book hit the spot for me, in many ways. First, I love books that juxtapose two time periods. In this case, we have present-day Boston and post-WWII Moscow. Second, I love being immersed in unfamiliar worlds. In Russian Winter, we learn about the lives of ballerinas in the famous Muscovite Ballet Corps, trying to navigate the terrifying reality of Stalin’s regime; at the same time, we’re experiencing the high-stakes research and presentation of jewelry auctions at a high-class auction house. Third, this book is full of emotions — jealousy, betrayal, new love, old love, fear, guilt and regret. The passage between the two times made it very hard to put this book down; I think Daphne Kalotay did a fine job of bridging that distance between present and past. It was like unraveling a mystery from the beginning and the end at the same time.
While the love story was beautifully predictable, there were some twists that I totally got wrong, and I always find myself more endeared to a book when the author really does surprise me. I know very little about Russia behind the Iron Curtain, and Nina’s early life certainly shows the confusion, the disbelief, the strong desire for things to just be FINE, and the despair when one realizes that there is no fine. There is only Stalin and his will, people disappearing in the night and the heart-wrenching feeling that maybe you or someone you love will be next.
It’s not perfect — sometimes I wanted to be back in the other time period or vice versa, and occasionally Nina is a frustrating character, but in the end, once I understood her a little better, I loved it. A great love story/historical story/mystery.
Rating: Mild for a couple of instances of mild language and two or three non-graphic sexual situations