book review: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter: A Novel (P.S.)
The basics: Nina, A retired ballerina originally from Russia who now lives in Boston is selling her jewels to benefit the Boston Ballet. Soon an anonymous donor comes forward with a piece that appears to be from the same collection. Soon more questions arise and a historical mystery arises.

My thoughts: This novel started off quite slowly for me; it took me about fifty pages to get into the storyline and characters. Once I did, I was somewhat entranced with the different characters and storylines. Nina's story is told in two different times: the past and present. She's certainly the focus of the story, but she was my least favorite character. I was most drawn to Drew, the library-loving young woman who is researching and running the auction. I quickly found myself enjoying her scenes most and looking forward to them. As Drew researched and probed for answers to the book's mysteries, she acts as a stand-in for the reader.

Part of my trouble with modern Nina was her secretiveness. She held so much back from the reader and the other characters. While I enjoyed her historical story a bit more, I found it slow to develop. The narrative was revealed slowly, and ultimately it was too slow for me. I wanted Kalotay to tell me more. As a reader, I like to be in the know. If the characters hold the answers, it's not as compelling unless the writing is superb. I would stop short of calling Kalotay literary. I was never wowed by her writing. I didn't find myself writing down passages to marvel at later. Perhaps I've been spoiled by some excellent reads lately, but I longed for truths of humanity to be sprinkled in with the story.

The verdict: Despite an intriguing story and strong characters, the pace of the plot hindered my enjoyment, and the writing wasn't enough to compensate for a slow plot. There's the idea of a great novel, but I would have preferred it be shorter and paced differently. I think it would make an excellent film, as Kalotay's writing was rich with imagery.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 463 pages
Publication date: September 7, 2010 (it's in paperback now and also available on the Kindle)
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Want more opinions? See the entire tour schedule here.

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  1. I am glad that you were honest about the first 50 pages of this book because I won this one earlier in the year, and had I not known that, I may have given up early on. And usually when a book has more than one storyline going on, I always find myself more attracted to one than the other, so you are not alone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book with me. It was greatly appreciated.

  2. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this one more! I liked it a lot, but I understand what you mean about Nina being too secretive.

  3. I, and I'm not sure how, won two copies of this novel last year. I started it, and like you, found it so slow. I actually gave up at that time so I could get into some other reading. I intend on picking it back up, so I'm glad to see a honest review before starting it again.

  4. Enjoyed your honest review. Haven't read this one, but I've had an eye on it. I think it's interesting that you think it would make a good film. Would you say that a novel with less literary writing translates better to screen? Seems like what makes literary novels so great is usually lost in translation by movie studios.

  5. @Zibilee
    I'm still glad I read it, but I think my expectations were too high. I've read so much great writing lately, it was hard to match up.

    @Swapna - I'm not sure why her secretiveness bugged be so much. I had such high hopes, which perhaps wasn't quite fair to the work.

    @Beth - It's worth reading, I think, but I wish I had more measured expectations

    That's a great point you make about less literary writing translating better to film as a personal preference. In film I enjoy strong characters still, so I think literary character-driven fiction would work better for me, but story matters more.

  6. I can definitely see this one as a movie, now that you mention it.

    I'm sorry it wasn't quite your cup of tea, but thanks for being on the tour!

  7. Thanks for the honest, thoughtful review. I've been so curious about this one (love the cover!). I so appreciated your comment "As a reader, I like to be in the know," as I think that articulates how I feel about many novels with 'private' main characters. I don't mind an unreliable narrator but I also don't like to work a book like I do an awkward date.

  8. I was dying for this book, but now I can see that I might not mind waiting for it.

  9. I've been digging historical fiction set in Russia lately so I am still intrigued by this one although now I am a little cautious based on your review.

  10. This one received alot of buzz before it came out and I thought I might be interested, but when I picked it up and found that it didn't pull me in. Maybe I should have persisted, but there are just so many great books out there :)

  11. Another blogger gave it a lukewarm review as well, after reading your thoughts, I think I'll give it a miss.


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