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The Master’s Muse by Varley O’Connor

The Master's Muse

I set aside April to read several books with ballet as a theme.  With this, my third book, I delve into the world of George Balanchine, the “master” of dancer and famed choreographer of the New York City Ballet.  The Master’s Muse is actually about his fifth wife, Tanaquil “Tanny” LeClerc, a famed ballerina in her own right, who was discovered and groomed by Balanchine.  Author Varley O’Connor thought it would be interesting to present a novel that told LeClerc’s story – partly because she was the only Balanchine wife who didn’t write a memoir, and partly because she succumbed to polio in 1959, ending her career and changing her relationship with her husband.

I loved the idea of this book and thought O’Connor did a wonderful job researching the life of Ms. LeClerc and George Balanchine.  It was reminiscent of The Paris Wife or The Aviator’s Wife, interesting but still a bit distant from the main characters.  I suppose this is appropriate, given LeClerc’s penchant for privacy.  I would have liked to know more from the author about what fictional license she took with the story.  For instance, she said Carl was invented.  I found that disheartening, because that was the one part of this story that truly touched my heart.  Still, I’m glad I read this novel, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in these real life people.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
256 pages

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My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner

My Name Is Resolute

Do you love historical fiction?  Do you enjoy a gripping adventure?  Do you have the time to read a 600 page page-turner? If you answered “yes” to these questions, My Name is Resolute is a must read for you!

The novel begins in the early 1700’s where 10 year old Resolute and her 20 year old sister Patience are instructed to run and hide in the wake of a pirate attack on their beloved Jamaican plantation.  In the course of this exciting historical saga, Resolute is kidnapped, sold into slavery, and eventually succeeds in attaining property and a good living for herself and her family in colonial New England.  Nancy E. Turner has created a terrific story in the midst of an historical American setting.  I highly recommend it!

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
608 pages

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Shadows At Dawn by Karl Jakoby

Shadows At Dawn

Shadows at Dawn is a non-fiction work about the 1871 Camp Grant Massacre, when a group of vigilantes attacked an Apache camp, slaughtering mostly women and children.  The story is told from the perspectives of the four different peoples involved:  Anglo-Americans, the Apache, the Mexicans, and the O’odham Indians.

Jakoby did a wonderful job researching this event.  There was written history by the white settlers, but much of the native perspective was through oral history.  In this way, however, a student of history can gain a much better understanding of what happened and why.  So many times we view past events through a modern lens, and that only serves to distort the truth.  There were mistakes made on all sides, but ultimately the lack of justice in a frontier territory pushed the various actors into creating justice for themselves.  The consequences, of course, were terrible.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2008
384 pages

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No Way Home by Carlos Acosta

No Way Home

Carlos Acosta is a ballet legend.  Born to an impoverished family in Cuba, as a kid Carlos was always getting into trouble.  He hung around a gang of boys who loved break-dancing as much as they loved bad behavior, so his father enrolled him in ballet school to keep him off the streets.  Despite often skipping class, it was obvious to those around him that Carlos had a gift for dancing.  At the age of 16, he won a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne and at 19 he was offered the position of principal dancer at English National Ballet.

I really enjoyed this autobiography, even though I felt that Acosta complained too much. It was clear that he felt forced into this world, and resented a profession that took him away from his family.  As a mother of a male dancer, it’s difficult not to judge Acosta as a man who clearly does not understand how truly fortunate he is.  Most dancers do not have the gifts that he does.  They also train away from home and give up a lot to be dancers.  While dancing gave him a career, being a star gave him the means to earn a very good living – a living that most dancers will never have.  Most working dancers in the Western world make very little money, and yet THEY are fortunate just to have a job contract.  This legend retired from Royal Ballet and dancing last October.  He is still young, has wealth and fame.  He can go anywhere now and his name will open doors everywhere in the dance world.  For Carlos Acosta, dancing is his passport to freedom, even if he doesn’t realize it yet.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2008
288 pages

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The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl

The House Girl is a work of historical fiction about a 17 year old slave, Josephine Bell, who runs away from her master in 1852.  Fast forward to the 2004:  a New York City attorney, Lina Sparrow, is assigned to a slavery reparations case and chooses to follow the lead of a young black artist (Josephine), whose mistress, until recently, was given credit for her artwork. If Lina can prove a hereditary connection between a jazz musician who owns some her paintings and Josephine Bell, she has a case.

Well, according the author she has a case.  According to me, the whole premise was incredibly weak.  I did enjoy the story of Josephine Bell, and the mystery of what happened to her and her baby, but the connection to the lawsuit was awkward.  Also, it felt like a third of the book consisted of letters, thrown in for the convenience of making the connection.  It just felt very contrived.

The base story, however, was a good one.  I hope Ms. Conklin continues to hone her craft.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
370 pages

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Dancer by Colum McCann

Dancer

Dancer is a work of fiction about the life of Rudolf Nureyev.  I am a balletomane.  I first became enchanted with the art form when I read a book about Vaslav Nijinski in high school.  Then my aunt took me to see the Royal Danish Ballet perform Coppelia at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera House.  I was hooked.  While I never got to see Nureyev dance, SHE did.  And seeing Nureyev with Margot Fonteyn was the catalyst that ignited HER interest in ballet.  Today my son is training to be a professional ballet dancer, and I have a special interest in male danseurs.

Going from Nijinski to Nureyev, you see an obvious connection.  It’s not about their nationality, however, it’s their state of mind.  They were both men obsessed with their art.  It drove Nijinski to madness.  I believe Nureyev suffered from another form of mental disability.  Dance became so much a part of him, that he did not relate well to others.  He seemed to lack empathy.  His best friends, Erik Bruhn (who was his lover) and Margot Fonteyn, did indeed love him, but it perhaps it was because they understood and respected his passion for dance.

McCann captured Nureyev quite well.  There was a real sense of his dance-focus, and his self-centered personality.  The author also expertly lays the backdrop of Soviet Russia, along with the staggering fame, paranoia and hard-hitting party life that led Rudi down a perverse path that would eventually kill him.  My only complaint was the way the McCann changed narrators – often and in a confusing way.  There were many times it took me pages to figure out who was telling the story.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2004
336 pages

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