Reviewed by Lauren Kirk
At first glance, Russian Winter is quite intimidating. The novel is thick, – around 460 pages – and the story inside the cover is quite detailed and complex. Daphne Kalotay is an excellent storyteller; her words place the readers right beside the characters and in their minds. Even as the time periods shift in the story, the novel remains easy to follow and understand. The story, while lengthy, moves at a quick pace and I easily finished the book in a few days time.
Nina Revskaya is an elderly, ex prima ballerina who is selling her extensive, and expensive, jewelry collection at auction for charity. Nina’s story is an interesting one that trickles in through suspense building segments throughout the novel. Each chapter is broken up with descriptions of each piece that is up for auction which is a nice touch because it really makes the reader aware of just how precious and diverse the collection is.
Nina rose to fame in Soviet Russia and then hatched a daring, and successful escape plan to free herself from the country after a set of startling events. Kalotay adds levels of mystery, love, friendship, and history neatly throughout the story without trying to do too much at one time. Nina is a tough character to crack at first, but as the book continues on, her strength pours through and her struggles and actions make her an endearing character. While there are other characters that have their own subplots in the story, such as the auction house employee Drew Brooks and a loveable professor named Grigori Solodin, the focus remains on Nina.
The stories of Drew and Grigori’s own pasts come out and we are reminded how everything is connected in the world through history and family. Nina keeps her past closely guarded and the mystery unfolds at the pace she deems fit. The history that is revealed is worth waiting for and it all comes to a neatly tied up ending at the jewelry auction.
The end of Russian Winter is a bit open ended, yet Kalotay does answer all of the pressing questions that arise. Her descriptions of Soviet Russian life, politically and socially, are both dark and enchanting. Nina really warms up as the novel progresses and both Drew and Grigori add another depth to the plot. I do feel that both of them could have been expanded a bit more as far as their story lines went, but perhaps that was done so the focus remained mainly on Nina and her tale.
Lauren Kirk is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Harper Perennial. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.