Book Review: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

20170423_094047-1-1.jpgSynopsis: Bolshoi ballerina Nina Revskaya was a member of Stalin’s cultural elite until betrayal triggered her ingenious escape to the West. Decades later she has decided to auction her famed jewelry collection – including the rare set of amber a Boston professor and an auction house associate believe may hold the key to a long-kept secret. The mystery reaches deep: to the cost of making art and trying to live and love under circumstances of enormous repression.

Cover: It is somehow both mysterious and soothing to look at the faded background of a tree against the white background and falling snow. The clothes on the embracing couple look on the old-fashioned side yet the female’s face itself looks more modern, so I’m not entirely sure what era this novel takes place just by looking at it.

Product: There is something about this book that doesn’t physically feel right. I am fairly certain the cover isn’t as thick as usual and the pages lean towards being a bit translucent. This could be due to the publisher using a new supplier or it could be this potential change was necessary in order to bind all 550-some pages (or rather 540 given there are ten leaves missing from my edition).

Format: This novel is divided into three books, each one shorter than the last, and each chapter begins with an auction item blurb (with the exception of what I’m assuming may be another error as there are two in a row for one chapter and none at all for another).

Writing Style: The sentence structure is either too long with half the words being unnecessary or so short it is actually missing words that would make it a proper sentence. Scenes change between characters and time periods with little indication, so you’re never sure who is narrating that section until a few sentences in.

Pace: Due too being far too descriptive on things unimportant, the first “Book” in particular has a lot of dragging moments. Overall, the story felt like a flat, long-winded retelling of past and present events rather than drawing the reader into the experience.

Setting: The present time in this novel is not completely current, so I would guess the present portion is set in the 90s. It appears Nina’s past takes place around the 1920s to 1950s, but very rarely are specific years actually given.

Plot: The first book of this novel lacks a clear story line as there are scenes that seem to have no purpose at all. The plot does become clearer and more intriguing in the second and third books, but the ending was a bit of a shock in its abruptness when I was finally expecting more. Personally, I would suggest cutting much of the first book and adding a proper ending to the third as I finished the novel with unanswered questions and a general feeling of unpleasantness.

Theme: Obviously winter is a major aspect of this novel for it is in the title and many scenes occur during those darker months. Snow covers reality, hides truth, and makes things seem perfect for a little while. As each flake melts away, what is underneath becomes revealed and usually dirtier than before all had been hidden. Each of the main characters have hidden aspects to their lives, a mystery that slowly becomes revealed; one character hopes it will mean a new beginning —like spring— while another knows it means an end.

Character Development: The three main characters appear to be fully formed in the author’s mind, but they did not portray to the page well as all the characters seem to lack emotional depth. There are hints towards various aspects in their lives without actually saying what happened, giving a little intrigue, but I found Nina to be boring and Drew was practically irrelevant for the first portion of the novel. Grigori is the only somewhat interesting character, and his scenes are helped along by the presence of Zoltan until he finally meets Drew.

Romance (spoilers!): To me, there isn’t really much by way of a true love in this book. Yes, Nina falls for Victor, but I just couldn’t like him. I thought his actions were that of a married man trying to start an affair with a naïve girl until he eventually married Nina, but I still did not care for him. Also, Gersh having an affair after his marriage was distasteful. Perhaps it was normal in that time period, but it showed a lack of morals in Nina as she helped keep the adultery from Gersh’s wife though she was friendly with both women. Grigori’s so-called romance with Evelyn is awkward and of little importance, while Grigori and Drew connecting is what I had initially anticipated happening. Their relationship is slow growing and far more interesting to read about, thus saving the novel somewhat with their budding romance.

Quote: In the end there was just you and your heart.

Verdict: To be honest, I was ready to put the book aside within the first twenty pages, and I only kept at it because I promised to post a review about it for today. I will admit the novel got better the longer I stuck with it, but at most it filled me with a desire to take ballet lessons again or, at least, watch dance movies. I was incredibly disappointed as I love ballet books, but even the dance-aspect and mystery of the jewels were not enough to save this. The novel did eventually show why others could like it, but I just cannot say the second half made the first portion worth the struggle.

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Author: JaimeKristal

JaimeKristal is a freelance editor and writer. She started her book review blog "Tales of a Booklover" for the enjoyment of sharing her love of reading.

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