Hello, fellow bookworms! Today I’m unveiling Book #5 in the Finding Delight Book Club. Can you believe we’re already this far into the year?! If you’re new to this series, I’m reading books and sharing about them with you here. I plan to post 4 times for each book. This month’s pick is The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp.
“So whatever you think of me, don’t pity me. I had a beautiful life. I was loved, admired, feted, copied, mocked, treasured, and feared. I am one hundred years old and I am no longer afraid of anything.”
The year is 1971 in Paris, France and ninety-nine year old Mathilde Kschessinska begins to recant the story of her life. In what feels like a different world, she was the self-centered, flirtatious, determined “prima ballerina assoluta” of the Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. She remembers a time when the Russian court was inextricably linked to the ballet. And vice versa.
As she carefully reconstructs each chapter of her life, her conquests and failures, we are given box seats to view the very stories that would change the course of history, both for Russia and the world. We witness how Russia evolves as she progresses from girlhood to “tsar-crossed lover” to old woman.
Expertly researched, The True Memoirs of Little K is based on real events and real people. But it reads like a fairy-tale narrated by a woman who has seen it all: the greatest love, heart-breaking loss, and the crumbling of the Romanov empire she so desperately wanted to belong to.
Determined to a fault, Mathilde Kschessinska jetés her way out of the wings and finds herself smack-dab in the middle of the Romanov stage. As a popular ballerina she steals the hearts of THREE members of the imperial family, including the future Tsar himself, Nicholas II. Her life, written as a dictated memoir, opens with the splendor of imperial life as seen through the eyes of someone close enough to taste it. A famous ballerina. As years pass, she sees Russia go from full of lavish traditions to full of upheaval.
I’ve been going through quite the historical fiction phase as of late, so I’m finding Sharp’s novel fascinating and powerful. The portrayal of Mathilde as a woman whose links to “scandal” will forever overshadow her abilities as a dancer is one too easily recognized in our society. I’m excited to see how her character evolves as the book unfolds and the imperial court deteriorates.
While I do think the style is very effective (and makes me truly believe Kschessinska was speaking!), the book’s lack of dialogue could be annoying for some. This absence doesn’t upset me, but I do sort of miss it as a way to build out details within the narrative. Without it, the narrator relies a lot on introspection and long-winded asides to explain historical detail. However, the latter is where Sharp’s research really shines through!
I feel like I’m learning a HUGE chunk of Russian history, but the medicine is going down with a spoonful of sugar because I also get a ballerina’s love story.
Read this if you’re interested in: Russian history, ballet and the lives of Russian prima ballerinas, the Romanovs
Read this if you loved: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, The Romanovs by Robert K. Massie, Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Keep a lookout for Part 2! It’ll be hitting this site next week.