Nina Revskaya was one of the great stars of the Russian ballet during a perilous time for her country. Nina escapes Russia to Boston, where we meet her as an elderly lady who is selling off her jewelry collection. She is frustrated by her body starting to fail her and for other reasons that, at the start of the story, the reader is unsure of. The process of selling off her jewels brings back memories of Nina during her ballet days, when she met her husband Viktor, danced with her best friend, and watched a good friend taken by Stalin's government for crimes he did not commit. Nina's memories also come back when she is contacted by Grigori Solodin, a translator of Nina's husband's poetry who has a necklace that exactly matches some of the jewels that Nina has put up for auction. Some of her memories as painful as she remembers her life in Russia.
This book was a little hard to get in to because I had problems reconciling the sweet Nina of the past versus the crusty Nina of the present. Obviously something makes her this way but it takes a very long time to figure out. Once you realizes what it is that Nina believes happened and how she reacts to it, you become much more invested in the book. I think that a little could have been cut out of the story to get to this point sooner because I enjoyed the novel quite a bit at this part but I felt it took a bit long to get there.
The novel also gives an idea of how normal people coped in the Stalin era. There were worries about spies and being reported on, about doing nothing wrong and still being arrested, about having one person say something bad about you which could ruin everything, and even about taking a train stop a few stops too far and being where it is illegal to be. These people had to be so careful about everything it's a wonder that any of them had any fun.
First Line: "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."