Monday, August 15, 2011

Review of Natasha's Dance

Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes

A magnificent book of great scope and worth
is Orlando Figes story of the cultural history
of Russia. A wonderful book to read! I am still
in awe of such a wonderful and scholarly work.

This book is full of magnificence, great wealth and
splendour with stories of princes, tsars and paupers.
I found this book fascinating for its insight and
sensitivity in writing
of its people, mountains, scenery and countryside
of Russia. It is a book of great
beauty, in the writing and also in the content of the book.

There are powerful and evocative descriptions
of pieces of poetry or prose which had been
written by some of the great
writers in Russian literature included in the story.

I am reminded that there is a review on the back cover of
the book which states that the reviewer does not like to
say too much about the book so as not to spoil it for the

This book is enlightening and wonderful.
Also educational. It is majestic in its scope, describing
palaces of princes, lives of great writers,
folk-lore and customs.
I loved the folk-loric nature of the
book with majestic stories and beliefs concerning cities, towns
and cities of
imagination and legend which were believed to have existed at times under a
lake, the healing properties of certain places
or of the gripping detail provided in stories by Gogol or
Dostoevsky. Tales of imagination abound for St Petersburg
with its bronze horseman. Fascinating! Great story-telling. I will
have to read some of Gogol's tales which certainly give an aura of the
fantastic, colour and
atmosphere to the history of the culture of Russia.

The colours and culture of Russia seem so different from
the rest of Europe. This may have been due to the eastern influences.
St Petersburg was built in more traditional Western European concepts
and architecture. This is a beautiful city which I visited in 2009. Moscow
is different again, and yet the architecture from Muscovy is a splendour with the
magnificent gold domes of cathedrals and churches which can often be seen from afar
when travelling about the city or the countryside.

In the earlier days before Russia became a Soviet
state the aristocracy was often encouraged to build palaces.
These palaces often became a place of learning, culture and
Prince Potemkin built
an exotic palace on the Crimea and in a note there is a mention of a book written
about him titled “Prince of Princes” by Simon Sebag Montefiore
which I would like to also read.
Great warmth and humanity, dignity and valour and personal conflict and endurance are revealed in the stories of Count Sheremetev and Prince Volkonsky.
Wonderful descriptions are given of the music, ballet, prose, poetry, gifted artists, musicians and
film makers with stories of their lives which gives an added appeal to the book for the humanity and personalities of the people involved. The book is on a personal level with the characters and it is not difficult
to often sympathise with the characters and their personal situations. Their lives were very real and the times very true. Colour plates of characters and illustrations of the
colour of arts, theatre and design provide interesting detail into aspects of the culture and arts.

The theme of the book is enduring beauty and even in the bleakest moments, sorrows and sadness,
the spirit and strength of some of the great artists who may have been living in difficult times in Russia still shine through.

In his notes the author has admitted that it did take him a long time to write this book but I am
so glad that he wrote it and also glad that I have read it. It is difficult to imagine that so much wonder, splendour and beauty can be written in one book but this certainly is the case with “Natasha's Dance” the title of which comes from Leo Tolstoy's “War and Peace.”
Full accolades for the author. At the introduction a Russian countess who had been brought up
by French governesses knew how to dance a Russian dance and picked up the rhythm. All things
French were wonderful and admired until Napoleon came to Russia. Thereafter, as described in
the chapter of “Children of 1812” some of the nobility turned away from European values and
concepts and returned to the beauty of the land and rural countryside of the Steppe and wished to
revert to more Russian ways of life. Some of the aristocracy had befriended soldiers of the peasantry in the army and had gained a renewed respect for these people who had come from the rural villages and land of Russia.
A wonderful achievement to write a book of such grand scope.
The beauty and descriptions of the times in Russia are portrayed vividly. The colours and scope of the landscape, the Siberian Steppe, the nomads and various clans and khans who conquered the territory in the 12th century, the folk-lore, songs and dances, traditions and the times of the tsars and a later
more fraught time which is depicted in a chapter of “Russia through a Soviet Lens” is a magnificent and scholarly accomplishment by the author. The book is quite compelling full of lively descriptions and anecdotes which makes “Natasha's Dance” fascinating to read.


  1. Super review! I love books centered in the pre-Soviet era, especially in St. Petersburg. Your review perfectly captured that aura...and definitely made me want to snuggle in with a good read. Thanks!

  2. Sandra, it could be Google acting up, but I had to select a profile, go to my Google account and sign in again before I returned to this page to type in the word's so unusual to have to return to one's account. Perhaps you could check your settings just in case.

  3. Hello Kitty,

    Thanks for your messages.

    I will check the settings and asccount as another person has had difficulty posting comments.

    Thank you for your response to my review of Natasha's Dance. Best wishes