Some time ago Eva Stachniak set her sight on interesting women and proceeded to write novel after novel about female heroes. She chooses women that miSome time ago Eva Stachniak set her sight on interesting women and proceeded to write novel after novel about female heroes. She chooses women that might not be well known (apart from Cathering the Great, of course) or that are forgotten or misrepresented in history books. Such was the case with the Countess Sophie Potocka, featured in Stachniak's second, brilliant novel entitled Garden of Venus. Now we get another fictional retelling of the female story, this time a story of Bronislawa Nijinska, ballet dancer and an accomplished choreographer and teacher, who was her famous brother's Vaslav Nijinsky's sister.
First person narrative makes it super easy to slip into the mind and the world of Bronia, a creative soul positioned in one of the hardest periods of history of humanity. Bronia, dilligently trained in the shadow of her genius brother, in classical ballet, quickly embraced the two worlds: old and new. She took the skill of classical ballet dancer and had no trouble understanding and applying it to modern ballet, to embody the ideas of her brother. She not only understood and accepted it, she took the modernity to a new level and made it her own. In the book we follow the difficult family dynamic, the troubled males touched by mental illness, the selfless dedication to family life and to work of generations of women, Mamusia (Bronia's mother), Bronia herself and later her daughter. I couldn't help wondering how the world would look if such creative, idealistic, passionate and hardworking women could run it. In contrast to all the troubled males, their actions made sense every time.
Sharing the origins with Bronia and Eva Stachniak I was enchanted by all the little tasty morsels (smaczki) that she brought into the book, small details: a string of dry mushrooms, baby's becik, thick slice of bread sprinkled with sugar, tea with lemon. The expressions, the attitudes, the jokes, all those details give authenticity to the novel, we can trust the author to get all her background spot on.
Thanks to the internet and the youtube, upon reading about the famous/infamous performance of Stravinsky's Rites of Spring in Paris of 1913, I couldn't resist to search for a video of the performance to see it directly. I found a contemporary The Mariinsky Ballet's production of "Le Sacre du printemps", faithful to Nijinsky's version. And then, next to it was a version created by the brilliant German choreographer Pina Bausch. I wondered what would Bronia think about this powerful performance by Tanztheater Wuppertal. I imagined her being moved by this graceful and violent choreography and the modern costumes. Would she be shocked or accepting?...more
This book sets the stage for the next book, a clever idea. In The Winter Palace we read about what went on before the relatively obscure German princeThis book sets the stage for the next book, a clever idea. In The Winter Palace we read about what went on before the relatively obscure German princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg transformed herself into the empress Catherine the Great.
I found it quite an intense story about what, we would call today, an abusive and toxic environment and women who found themselves living inside it. Sophie and everybody else is placed under the tyranny of empress Elizabeth, who is a cruel self centered ruler. Everybody is forced to live a double life, one in public and quite another one clandestinely. This type of living under constant terror is shared by the main protagonist of the story, fictional Barbara (in Polish) or Varvara (in Russian), who finds herself an orphan, a foreigner at the Russian court at the mercy of the empress Elizabeth. Both Sophie and Barbara become friends, or so it seems. Both have to deny or cover up their true feelings, have to make alliances and rid themselves of any scruples in order to survive.
The fictional main character is very skillfully placed within the historical context making the story interesting as well as educational. It's the best way to learn history, through the eyes of a very credible and very sympathetic character. I love reading about the minuscule details, descriptions of everyday life, food, fashion, occupations, behaviour of the protagonists, coming into close contact with the reality of Russia of the eighteen century.
The book is essentially dedicated to the seventeen years during which Sophie waited and learnt all she could in order to prepare herself for taking the throne. She also endured tremendous hardship in her personal life, having everybody who she loved taken away from her. She knew that her fortune depended completely on her strenght and proceeded with the iron will to will what she wanted. ...more
I have recently re-read the Cancer Ward not knowing what to expect as I read it such a loooong time ago. And I'd love to say that it is a great read,I have recently re-read the Cancer Ward not knowing what to expect as I read it such a loooong time ago. And I'd love to say that it is a great read, still. It's one of those books that people claim to know for sure what it is about. And yes, it's about the Soviet era and the grim realities of those fifties under communism, yes, it is about this horrible illness and the hospital scene, and yes it is about humans facing death. But it is also and I think primarily about life. It is about how to live life. One of the main characters poses the following question to his fellow patients: "what is the most important thing in life?" And the novel tries to hint at some answers. I found it very life affirming and a wonderful read. Highly recommended....more