Nina Revskaya was one of the Bolshoi Ballet’s great dancers, a prima ballerina beyond compare during her heyday. She was discovered as a child and rigorously trained and groomed for a life as a dancer.
Fifty years later, when the novel begins, Nina is in Boston, where she has lived since she defected as a young dancer, and she is preparing to auction off her exquisite collection of jewelry, including a rare Baltic amber set. The provenance of the amber is the backbone of Kalotay’s debut novel, which alternates between modern-day Boston and Stalinist Moscow.
When news of the auction is made public, Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who has never met Nina, anonymously adds one item to the collection: an amber necklace that is a perfect match to Nina’s other pieces. Solodin has had the necklace since he was an orphan, and he assumed that it belonged to his mother. Though he has made attempts to talk to Nina Revskaya, she has never allowed him an audience. As Drew Brooks, the researcher at the auction house handling Nina’s jewelry, delves further into Nina’s past, she also grows closer to Solodin, whose search for his heritage has consumed his adult life.
Though Nina hasn’t danced in years, she still carries herself with the dignity of a ballerina; though she escaped Stalin’s oppressive regime fifty years prior, she still keeps secrets. Though she’s occasionally difficult to fathom, she’s easy to believe. The alternating storylines add to the suspense, leading to the slow reveal at the ending. I appreciate that Kalotay doesn’t take the easy way out – the resolution is unexpected, yet you can easily see how she arrived there. This is a grand, sweeping novel, but the focus is always squarely on the characters, their motivations, and how they have been shaped by experience. Russian Winter was thoroughly enjoyable and difficult to put down.