“‘Russian Winter,’ Daphne Kalotay’s first novel, is a magnificent tale of love, loss, betrayal and redemption. Shifting between Moscow and Boston and alternating the past with the present, the story centers on Nina Revskaya, a star of the Bolshoi Ballet, known as ‘the Butterfly.’ Her fame peaks during the dark days of the Cold War when all Russians were aware that ‘anyone could turn in anyone else, for any thing. Small things. . . . Speaking the wrong thing, telling the wrong joke. . . . It was impossible not to know someone who was arrested.’ In 1952, despite warnings that ‘they find you and break your legs,’ Nina defects and goes on to have a celebrated international career.
“Now old and infirm, she lives in Boston’s Back Bay and has decided to sell her treasured jewelry collection, including some particularly valuable amber pieces. Drew Brooks, the associate director of fine jewelry from the auction house, visits to compose a list of the gems and begins to ask Nina questions that open a Pandora’s box of memories and mysteries.”
Eugenia Zukerman, “Daphne Kalotay’s ‘Russian Winter,’ a saga about the Cold War and ballet,” The Washington Post, September 8, 2010.
“The afternoon was so cold, so relentlessly gray, few pedestrians passed the long island of trees dividing Commonwealth Avenue, and even little dogs, shunted along impatiently, wore thermal coats and offended expressions. From a third-floor window on the north side of the street, above decorative copper balconies that had long ago turned the color of pale mint, Nina Revskaya surveyed the scene. Soon the sun — what little there was of it — would abandon its dismal effort, and all along this strip of wellkept brownstones, streetlamps would glow demurely.
“Nina tried to lean closer, to better glimpse the sidewalk below, but the tightness in her neck seized again. Since her chair could not move any nearer, she bore the pain and leaned closer still. Her breath left patches of fog on the glass. She hoped to spot her visitor ahead of time, so as to better prepare herself.
“Cold rose to her cheeks. Here came someone, but no, it was a woman, and too young. Her boot heels made a lonely clop-clop sound. Now the woman paused, seemed to be searching for an address. Nina lost sight of her as she approached the door of the building. Surely this couldn’t be right — though now the doorbell buzzed. Stiff-backed in her wheelchair, Nina rolled slowly away from the window. In the foyer, frowning, she pressed the intercom.
“‘Drew Brooks, from Beller.’
“These American girls, going around with men’s names.”
“The woman is unlike any Nina has ever seen, wearing a dress suit of a fine pale gray-blue color, with a small hat at a slant on her head, and on her hands short clean white gloves. Gloves in springtime! And the delicacy of that grayish blue shade . . . Nina knows only a few fabrics, the same dark plum colors in winter and cheerily ugly patterns in summer, nothing in between.
“And then Nina sees the most remarkable thing: the woman has jewels in her ears. Diamonds, small yet twinkling mightily. For a moment Nina is almost breathless. The only earrings she has seen are big dull beads that hang down from clips: pearls, heavy-looking, or glassy lumps of brown or marbled green stone. And so these tiny glittering diamonds are startling. And they are in her ears! Nina’s mother looks away as the woman passes, but Vera asks,
“‘Who is she?’
“‘American, I suppose.’ Mother reaches her hand out to Nina to show that it is time to continue on. But Mother’s perfect oval face and slender waist must have impressed the guards — or perhaps they are bored and want to show off. They gesture to Nina and Vera, to allow them a turn through the doors.
“Utter silence as the men solemnly escort them round. Nina glimpses, for mere seconds, the hotel’s immense lobby, its gleaming floor and thick runner of carpet, and an enormous mirror with a heavy gilt frame. The ceiling is impossibly high, with glittering lights shining down. It is the first time Nina has seen such things, a whole other world — but the slow rotation continues, and now the marble floor, the plush carpet, the gold mirror and chandelier, are already behind her. That twinkling shower of lights — and the American woman’s diamonds right there in her earlobes, tiny and bright, like stars. Outside again, the tour over, Nina asks,
“‘Did you see the lady’s ears?’
“Mother just gives a look that reminds her to thank the doormen.
“‘Thank you very much.’ Nina and Vera curtsy as they were taught at the audition, one foot behind the other, hands lifting the edges of their skirts, and turn away from the fascinating door, that entrance to a whole other world, and only then does the understanding come to Nina, strongly, acutely — much more than at the Bolshoi school — that something momentous has occurred.”