Russian Winter

Winter is coming soon to some places – even here in the tropics, the sun sets in a different spot as it sinks into the ocean, the wind blows a little chillier, mornings are crisper.  Not too many fireplaces where I live, but if you have one, Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter could be cozy solace as you sip your hot chocolate or brandy.

A romantic mystery involving a famous Russian ballerina who defected with precious jewels, Russian Winter slowly unravels the life of one of the Bolshoi’s stars, Nina Revskay.    Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, who defected to the United States in the sixties, died recently – giving Kalotay’s book an eerie timeliness.

The story meanders back and forth from Nina’s flashbacks; in the present Nina is an old frail woman who is mysteriously bitter about her past and holds a terrifying secret.  She decides to sell the jewels she hid in her escape from Stalin to the free world, with her amber bracelet and earrings holding special value for their personal history and provenance.

Drew, the young associate at the Boston auction house where the jewels will be sold is dealing with her own personal demons; Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian literature, who owns the necklace in the amber set, is determined to discover the jewel’s link to his parentage. They both have questions that Nina is reluctant to answer.

Kalotay sprinkles her narrative with historic references to Russian life before and after Stalin, including information about the labor camps and amber mines.  Kalotay  also documents the changes in the work and life of artists living in Soviet Russia and offers clear and detailed insights into that culture.  The cast of Russian characters has a number of minor supporting characters, with the principles including Vera Borodina, Nina’s childhood friend; the Jewish composer, Aron Gershtein, who is in love with Vera; Nina’s renowned poet husband, Viktor; and Viktor’s devious mother…

{Nina}:  “People think I fled Russia to escape communism.  Really I was escaping my mother-in-law.”

The complexity of the plot and the number of characters may keep you off-balance, but in the end, love letters, a poem, and the jewels come together for the final revelation of betrayal and misunderstanding – and, of course, a happy and satisfying resolution.

Russian Winter is a slow read – you may doze off now and then while reading – but the artistic movements are graceful and the Cold War history unnerving.

Related Article:  How Stalin’s Daughter Defected