I started reading this during the coldest week we've had this season. Between the frigid air outside (and sometimes inside, brr!) and the fact I always seem to equate "ballet" with "Christmas", it seemed a particularly fitting book selection. (Isn't it nice when the library holds list works out that way?) Going in to the reading, I was almost giddy with anticipation - I have a 'thing' for jewelry, and I thought this was going to be a lovely exploration of ballet and jewels and ballerinas in Russia-once-upon-a-time. That was not exactly what I got. However, I was not devastated - this ended up being a good read (and there are pages before every chapter that feature a piece from Nina's collection that is up for auction featuring descriptions like would appear in an auction catalogue).
While it took me a little bit to figure out the way Kalotay was telling the stories involved, once I figured out the 'trick' to reading, I was quickly engrossed. There are four story lines unfurling simultaneously: Nina's present, as she is struggling against Time & Age; Drew's journey to self-discovery, aided by her work with Nina's auction collection; Grigori's battle against memory and fight for identity; and Nina's past - which started everything. I was fascinated by the accounts of Communist Russia, and the lives of the artists as represented by Nina and her friends. That time is so foreign to me, so unexplored, I felt like I was truly getting a glimpse into a different world. As everything in the individual story lines grows and develops, eventually tying together in a stunning ending.
So while Russian Winter was not exactly what I expected, I'm glad I read it - there are details and ideas of life in Russia that made me think, and there are threads of humanity explored and discussed that are universal. The characters' discoveries can apply to any and all of us. That, I think, is part of what makes a book a keeper: the ability to create characters that are human. These characters are flawed and imperfect, but they are real. Their stories feel real. And there's just enough jewelry-talk to make me feel like I got what I wanted.
Book provided by my local library.