I have to admit to being a ballet troglodyte, and as such when one of my book clubs recommended we read this “racy novel about dancing,” I agreed. (Malbec may or may not have influence my affability). An thus began my journey into the (to me) unknown world of ballet in Russia (and elsewhere).
Whether you are concious of it or not, most people have seen a glimpse of Rudi Nureyev dancing in a ballet clip or highlight. He was THE ballet superstar of the 60s, and danced with Margot Fontaine, perhaps THE prima ballerina of the world stage. Together they were unstoppable, and remained dance partners until she was in her 60s- ancient for a professional ballerina.
Though this was not a biography of Rudi’s life, it was based on historical events, and thus does closely follow his life line. The different characters in orbit around his life were amalgams of real people in his life: friends, family, peers, etc. They all had their own roles to play, not only in Rudi’s life, but in describing the general feeling, tone, and reality of life in Russia at that time.
Rudi was a fascinating character: completely at odds with himself, but driven wholly and completely by his desire to be a perfect ballet dancer. He is an unlikeable protagonist, but after learning his history from boyhood to fame, he is also a character of extreme vulnerability. It is an intriguing look into the mind and heart of a genius, narcissist, and ultimately, a man with an unfulfilled heart.
One of the main issues I had with the book was that the author jumps back and forth between narrators, which I usually enjoy. The main problem was that I listened to it on audiobook, and it was very hard to distinguish the narrator’s voices from one to another. I am not sure if that problem exists in the written word, but it appears to be a bit jumpy.
I considered this to be well worth the read, particularly if you have no real background or knowledge of professional ballet. There was very little ballet terminology, which keeps it accessible to those with no understanding of the art (like me). The characters that pop in and out of the novel are also thrilling: some famous names do make an appearance in this account of Nureyev’s life.