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The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  610 ratings  ·  65 reviews
In December 1917, Vaslav Nijinsky, the most famous male dancer in the Western world, moved into a Swiss villa with his wife and three-year-old daughter and started to go insane. This diary, which he kept in four notebooks over six weeks, is the only sustained, on-the-spot account we have by a major artist of the experience of entering psychosis. Nijinsky's diary was first ...more
Hardcover, Unexpurgated edition, 312 pages
Published January 1st 1999 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published 1953)
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Katriina ❆
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
[ I am full of life, and therefore I suffer ]

is a quote out of this book, but so is

[ I am no turkey with feathers of steel. I am a turkey with feathers of God]

or, my all-time-favourite, as I spent all of my life convinced that Dostoevsky was a stick and got really enlightened:

[Dostoevsky is no stick.]

No, really. I find it easy to make fun of some of these lines in Nijinskys diary, but I'm actually overwhelmed with the sheer genius of this man. Already quite early Nijinsky himself admitted that
Jul 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Reads like a disorienting fusion of high Modernist stream-of-consciousness, Kafka's psychological claustrophobia and the postmodern penchant for shifting personas and unreliable narrators. It could be considered a quite impressive (if impenetrable) literary achievement if stripped of its context-- that is, a record of its author's descent into the schizophrenia from which he would never reemerge. Basically, it's several hundred pages of this type of thing:

"I am the artist who loves shapes and al
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Nijinksy is a fascinating character. In the first twenty years of the 20th century he rose to become the world's greatest dancer. Then at the age of 29, he came crashing down into a world of insanity.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Nijinsky spent the last thirty years of his life in and out of insane asylums.

In 1919 Nijinsky kept a diary. The original version is a heavily bowdlerized publication that his wife, Romala edited. This edition by Joan Acocella is unexpurgated and quite wild.

It is not ea
lilly amber
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars because it’s vitally important this book exists. It is an imperfect incantation, thin as muslin; but it’s vulnerabilities and simplicity of speech are innocent, much like prince myshkin is in The Idiot (a book Nijinsky himself references several times)

it’s easy to see Nijinsky’s nomadic style and his tendency to contradict himself from sentence to sentence as evidence of nonsensical madness - and it’s true Nijinsky does show himself to be “mad”, though perhaps in a sense that can only be
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book has no logical reasoning whatsoever. It it deeply contradictory. Highly naive. It is repetitive. Anti-science even. It is signed, in the end, by 'God & Nijinsky'. And yet, it is absolutely beautiful.

The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky are the diaries of a genius -perhaps the best dancer who ever lived- who increasingly suffers from psychosis, presumably schizophrenia. The book was meant to be published by Nijinsky, but it does not seem as if that stopped him from penning down every single
Jon Nakapalau
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, biography
Nijinsky helped redefine the role of men in ballet. If contemporary accounts are accurate he could probably have been a long jump champion, he could cover the length of a stage - holding an arabesque in the air that seemed suspended until he chose to allow gravity to exercise its force over him. His diary documents his decent into madness and makes us wonder what he could have accomplished had he not had to battle mental illness.
Tony Gualtieri
Sep 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This extremely moving diary was written as Nijinsky struggled with symptoms of schizophrenia in the spring of 1919. It's a painfully honest book. Throughout the text Nijinsky struggles with the horrors of the First World War, his acrimonious relationship with his ex-lover Diaghilev [who had spitefully fired him from Ballets Russes after Nijinsky married a Hungarian woman on a South American tour], his revulsion at eating meat, his deteriorating marriage, and the delusions that increasingly cloud ...more
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
total freak. you get the feeling the term "free spirit" was coined specifically for him. i had no idea, what a creative force he was. he was a dancer in a truly golden age, when dancers were famous, and real artists. amazing life story. ...more
Jun 02, 2019 added it
Shelves: biography do you even rate poor boy.

will say that "man to man" nearly made me cry
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Like Romola's edition of The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, it is difficult to rate this text on Nijinsky's words alone (and not only because this is an English translation of the original Russian & French). Acocella has an influence over the Diary through her introduction, footnotes, and inclusion of photographs of and artwork by Nijinsky. It is also much more clinical in comparison to Romola's 1968 edition, since Acocella's point-of-view is more objective, even as her in-depth contextualizing somet ...more
Melissa Crady
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nijinsky's thoughts seem so jumbled an contradicting. I felt confused a lot by his frequent terms of "feeling" and "love". It made me feel sad as it came across to me that he didn't really know what either really meant and didn't use them in proper context or he would contradict himself by saying he loved someone but then say he didn't.

I'm quite fascinated by Nijinsky and just recently started really learning about him but one common thread seems to be that people thought he was stupid, and I f
Nov 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Quite possibly THE most fascinating book I have ever read, and ever will read. This book is literally the diary of one of the greatest ballet legends as he takes a nose-dive into insanity. It's not just written to mimic madness; it actually is raw madness. This is definitely not a family-friendly book. It's kind of hard to read because his thought process is so random, and it's very candid and sometimes kind of gross. The diary covers the last few months of his life, during which his wife has hi ...more
Sep 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
He is simply beautiful in every way. He makes me sad and he makes me happy. He makes me think about everything and he makes me think about nothing. One of the most beautiful things one can read is a pure genuine, bare and bold person's diary. Which is precisely what this is. His personal writing describes why human beings are endlessly beautiful, and that there is nothing more impacting than purity and genuineness. Why this is not a full five stars rating is for no other reason that it simply do ...more
Alex Diaz
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am a biography fanatic, and seeing as Nijinsky is one of the most famous and influential dancers of all time, I figured this would be a pretty rewarding read. What I didn’t anticipate was how uncomfortable I would feel while reading it. This diary captures Nijisnky’s descent into madness over the course of one month, and between Nijinsky’s unfortunate love of repetition and his insistence that he is God, much of it reads like a compendium of Gertrude Stein’s “what-would-i-say” posts (out of co ...more
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's unfortunate that the other version, published by the University of California Press, I believe, is not listed here (edit: it is listed here! I merely had to change editions (

It is out-of-print, but secondhand copies are widely available, and it is by far superior, in my opinion, to this newer release.

The version I'm mentioning is translated and edited by Nijinsky's wife, Romola, and just seems far more delicate, and beautiful. From what little I re
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
What a strange document! We meet a man who is transitioning to another world, going on about how is is in god, is god or has to do what god tells him. Who speaks a lot about dead, that is terrifying him, or is not. Nijinksi is speaking about money for which he doesn't care most of the times but shows dozens of reasons to have it.

On the other hand we meet a man for the senses. Loving and caring, searching for connections with temporally clear visions on how people act.

So, what I learned from thi
"I am not crying, but have tears in my heart …"

"I like to speak in rhymes, because I am a rhyme myself."

"I loved listening to my footsteps; they were full of life."

"The Russian people are like children. One must love them and govern them well."

"You think that because I build everything on feeling, I have lost my mind. A man who bases everything on feeling is not horrible …"

"I will remain alone and cry in my loneliness. I cry in such a way as not to interfere with anyone. I will not cry now, beca
Eva Stachniak
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a heart breaking insight into the few weeks of Vaslav Nijinsky's life, just before he succumbed to a mental breakdown. His brilliance is evident, but so is his loneliness and fear. A moving testimony by one of the greatest artists of our times. ...more
I feel I could take on Finnegans Wake after this. Also, not unfamiliar territory, another on the 'I felt seen' stack. ...more
It's difficult to review the 1968 edition of The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, because it is so heavily edited by Romola Nijinsky, Nijinsky's wife, biographer, and, of course, editor. Romola eliminates all discussions about sex, vulgarity, and other blasphemous musings in order to preserve a more spiritual, mythical, yet heartbreaking image of her husband. Her preface and inclusion of Nijinsky's in-costume photographs and abstract artwork contribute to this image as well, as there are no photos of f ...more
Olga Shibiko
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
It’s hard to review diaries of someone suspected to have schizophrenia. I think it has two valuable aspects - one glimpses of recollections of his youth and references to ballet Russe, Krasavina and Dyagilev . They are scarce and thus precious . Second is the unwinding spiral of his monologue. It is a stream of consciousness at times as elevated as his dancing was . you begin to question if these ravings are true . Value of the work Romola did by preserving this material for posterity is insurmo ...more
Oct 22, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir
I always finish books, but can't make it through this one. Although it's interesting, after a while it feels a little sad and voyeuristic. Nijinsky repeats and contradicts himself constantly, there's no real constant train of thought. ...more
Repetitive, pedantic, contradictory, ecstatic.
I'm overwhelmed with love for these simplistic rants - amazing, cyclical arrogance.
Apparently, all you have to do is chant "god", "meat", "heart", and "blood", and I am won.
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Now that I've put this on my favorites shelf, I imagine anyone watching must be wondering, "what gives?" Allow me to attempt to explain...

I consider this one of my favorite books of all time because it is so fascinating. As the translator describes it, this is "the only sustained, on-the-spot account we have by a major artist of the experience of entering psychosis". This is not a book that can be casually recommended to friends. It is very difficult to read because of the encroaching craziness
Sarah Rigg
This is the first unexpurgated version of the diary in English - his wife heavily edited and rearranged the original printing of the diary, taking out anything that would make Vaslav or her look bad.

The best part of this book is the introduction, which gives a brief bio and puts the diary in context. The actual diary is a bit of a slog as Nijinsky was descending into mental illness as he wrote it, and while there are realistic passages of narration, a lot of it devolves into word salad.

Unless yo
Mirkka Salo
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nijinsky's own text is so special and unique that it is a real treasure. Great thanks for the good translator who made important notices about V.N.:s language in wchich there were e.g. Polish elements in his Russian and Russian elements in his Polish, and a lot of other info. Only part I did not like was the pre word of Acocella. On my opinion Nijinsky did not wrote as a mentally ill does, only when he was very stressed and afraid for a reason he's taughts were partly reality-escaping. ...more
Jun 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Lyrically beautiful. Account of yet another persecuted artist experiencing the emotional extremes we call "mental illness" b/c of the pressures of being exploited by his manager Dhiagelev. Read it too long ago, wanna read it again. ...more
Oona Narvaez
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This memoir is gut wrenching to any reader even if they have no background of dance. It is endearing but upsetting to read about the paranoia and depression one man can go through.
John Cates
Not much have had this on my to read list for over 40 yrs - rambling - contradictory - its clear why he was thought to have mental health issues - dont feel my time was was well spent reading it - not sure why univ of California felt it worth reprinting - of interest perhaps to students of abnormal psychology - but he was a great dancer!
Ştefan Bolea
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
The monotonous delirium of the greatest dancer of the 20th century.
The insight of a seer and the innocence of a Greek deity.
You can read it as a meditation on the Jungian feeling function.
Don’t overthink it, feel it...
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Vaslav Nijinsky (Also: Wacław Niżyński, Вацлав Нижинский) (December 28, 1889 - April 8, 1950) was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent. Nijinsky was one of the most gifted male dancers in history, and he grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations. He could perform en pointe, a rare skill among male dancers at the time an ...more

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