Daphne Kalotay's Russian Winter
Summary (from Amazon.com):
A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.
When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.
Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction hosue, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.
Kalotay's Russian Winter has it all: intrigue, lost love, echoes from the past, mystery, absorbing characters, great plot, and compelling historical context. This is a hard one to put down, and the ending is as satisfying as it surprising.
Kalotay's writing is brilliant, utilizing present tense in the historical sections to provide a fairy-tale-type atmosphere and to bring the reader immediately into Nina's world. Ballet metaphors - particularly Swan Lake - suffuse the novel, texturizing it with depth and complexity. Nina is a sympathetic character, though it is difficult to like her at first. The reason for her coldness is not immediately clear, but by the conclusion it is amply apparent why someone of her experiences would function as she does.
The historical context is compelling and artistically drawn. Life under Stalin was no picnic, and Kalotay does a commendable job of translating the terror and fear that most Russians lived with every day. The descriptions of life at the Bolshoi are also fascinating.
Russian Winter is a fabulous read, one that is perfect for the cold weather and slower days of winter.