Cover Image: Dancing for Stalin

Dancing for Stalin

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Member Reviews

I studied Stalin and the Russian revolution at school and have always enjoyed watching ballet so I was intrigued by this book, especially since it is based on a true story. Nina is inspiring and the story is moving, intriguing and powerful. Parts of her story are truly shocking. The writing is lovely and I definitely recommend this book.

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"Dancing with Stalin: Artistic Politics and the Soviet Ballet" by Christina Ezrahi is a compelling and meticulously researched work that delves into the complex relationship between the Soviet ballet and the political machinations of Stalin's regime. Ezrahi's book is a remarkable exploration of how ballet, an art form often perceived as apolitical, became a tool for political expression and propaganda in the Soviet Union.

Ezrahi's narrative skillfully intertwines the history of Soviet ballet with broader socio-political developments. She sheds light on how the ballet was used as a medium to convey ideological messages, reflecting the shifts in political climate under Stalin's rule. The book meticulously documents how choreographers, dancers, and composers navigated the treacherous waters of artistic creation under a regime that demanded conformity to its ideologies.

One of the strengths of "Dancing with Stalin" is its rich detail and the depth of its analysis. Ezrahi brings to life the personalities of key figures in the Soviet ballet world, from renowned dancers to influential government officials, and presents a vivid picture of their struggles and triumphs. Her extensive use of archival materials, personal letters, and contemporary accounts adds authenticity and depth to the narrative.

The book also critically examines the paradoxes inherent in the Soviet ballet of this era. It highlights the tension between artistic innovation and political compliance, showing how the ballet became a battleground for artistic freedom versus state control. Ezrahi's analysis of major ballet works of the time, and how they were received by both the public and the authorities, is particularly enlightening.

Furthermore, "Dancing with Stalin" offers a unique perspective on the cultural diplomacy of the Soviet Union. Ezrahi delves into how ballet was used as a tool for soft power, shaping the Soviet image abroad while simultaneously being subjected to rigorous control at home.

In conclusion, Christina Ezrahi's "Dancing with Stalin" is an essential read for anyone interested in the intersection of art and politics. It is not only a significant contribution to the history of ballet but also a fascinating study of the complex dynamics between artistic expression and authoritarianism. The book is a testament to the enduring power of art in the face of political adversity and is highly recommended for its insightful analysis and engaging storytelling.

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I sincerely thank NetGalley and the publisher for my advance copy. This was a mesmerising read over the weekend, thank you!

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Nina was a ballerina in Leningrad.
In 1938 the NKVD burst into Nina’s family home and take our heroine.
We see what Nina’s life was like before and after her arrest.
But there are two sides to Nina.
Was she a German spy? Did she conduct criminal activity against the Soviets.

An engaging story made all the more interesting because Nina was a real person.
Such a harrowing and moving story, the research and historical accuracy ware amazing.
Poses the question is art stronger than politics

Thanks @christinaezrani @elliottandthompson & @netgalley for the eARC

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Great book!!

Thank you so much netgalley, the author and the publisher for the advanced review copy if this book💗 "I voluntarily read and reviewed the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.”

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A really interesting look at Russia under Stalin. I have always had a morbid fascination with the darker parts of history and the Russian revolution and what came after that has always been one that fascinates me. I will say though that this was quite a heavy read, there is a lot of information in it.

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I was sent this book for free in return for an honest review.

‘Dancing for Stalin,’ starts in the archives of St Petersburg and takes us on a journey through the years of ‘The Terror,’ under Joseph Stalin the leader of the Soviet Union. The book focuses on Nina Anisimova, a ballet dancer with the Kirov ballet company. (Now known as the Mariinsky Ballet.) Accused of having counter revolutionary relationships and discussions Nina is found guilty and sent to the soviet prison system gulag.

The book is incredibly well researched and the author does an exceptional job of using Nina’s own letters to allow us to really understand what her experience was like as a prisoner of the Soviet regime. The situation she found herself is harrowing and could easily have been soul destroying and yet Nina holds on to her passion for the arts, for ballet and for dance to enable herself to not just get through her imprisonment but also to hold on to her positive belief she would one day again get to dance. It truly is inspirational.

As a history enthusiast who loves ballet this book appealed to me on many levels. The history of the ballet in Russia post Bolshevik takeover was something I had not read much about and was actually fascinating. Ballet as an art form has traditionally been linked with the bourgeoisie and it was intriguing how the new Soviet government tried to move away from this and make ballet more ideologically acceptable. Reclaiming it in the name of telling the story of the workers. Through Nina’s story we were able to see how these changes were often not easy on those who were part of the arts.

The history aspect really shed light on just how terrifying, all embracing and fanatical the hunt for those accused of espionage was. How committed the NKVD were to fulfilling its quota of 'those who had anti bolshevik beliefs,’ and how this affected just about everyone. The author names so many people affected and the scale of the suffering is overwhelming.

Overall with this book the author has made history really accessible and readable. Combining great research with engaging writing that draws the reader in. This book provides a somber but also uplifting look at a devastating period in history that everyone should read.

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I was caught from the beginning by this true story about Russian ballerina/choreographer, Nina Aleksandrovna who was arrested and sent to one of Stalin's gulags, labor camps about as horrific as those of the Nazis would prove to be, during Stalin's Great Purge. The Great Purge or Great Terror took place in 1937-1938, in which the ethnic cleansing of Russia was enforced in the forms of executions and imprisonment to the gulags, or labor camps. Mirroring the Nazi camps if you ask me, the only thing missing is the Jewish aspect.
This book tells the life of Nina, what kept her going in the gulag, how she survived freezing temps with no proper clothing, and little to no food daily? What drove her to succeed and live when so many others died? It is a story of courage and determination, and bravery.
I recommend this book to all history fans who enjoy reading about the turbulent times of the 1930s and of Russian gulags, ballet, and Stalin's reign.
Thank you to Elliott and Thompson publishing and to Net Galley for the free ARC, I am leaving my honest review voluntarily.

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Nina Anisimova, a renowned Russian ballerina, becomes caught up in Stalin's purges of the late 1930s. Suspected of being a Nazi spy, she is sent to a gulag without warm clothing or any type of protection against the cruel Russian winter. Courage and determination plus her talent for dancing and choreography keep her surviving. Amazing story of a strong woman and the support of her family.

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As someone who loves ballet and was interested in learning about this particular part of history, I was looking forward to this book. Unfortunately it fell flat for me and I DNFd at the 50 page mark (about 14%?). The writing felt stilted and overwhelmed with facts that the story was buried deep. I got easily bored and tried to pick it up several times but would always set it back down after only a few minutes of reading. Writing style simply isn’t my taste but I can appreciate the amount of research the author did and hope others enjoy it more than I could

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Loved learning more about Russia under Stalin. As that tends to be a bit of history that most of the world doesn't know about.

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Dancing for Stalin by Christina Ezrahi is a stunning book in every way. I read a lot from Stalin's Great Terror era and the difference here is the perspective of Nina Anisimova, a choreographer and character dancer born in St. Petersburg who became known for her character depictions in her beloved art. However, she was falsely accused of espionage and vanished, as so many thousands of people did then. Her life in the Gulag was beyond imagining. Having to survive both Stalin and Nazi nightmares is incomprehensible and humans' capacity of inhumanity is staggering. This book is about passion, despair, anguish and hope.

Nina's wrote letters which not only reveal personal struggles but are incredibly important historical contributions. Sadly, justice was never served for false accusations, arrests, tortures and deaths making a tragic story even worse. However, Nina left behind a legacy of her characters at dance competitions in the present day. One of the many aha moments for me in this book was that Nina did not dance for Stalin but for human beings who were her real audience. I like that the author included Nina's life after the Gulag.

If you are eager to learn more about Nina's story and/or Stalin's Great Terror, be sure to read this.

My sincere thank you to Elliott & Thompson and NetGalley for providing me with an early digital copy of this outstanding book.

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I gave the book 3 stars due to its lack of depth in analysis and ignoring the suffering of Eastern Europeans invaded by russia.

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This is a story about the strength and power of the human spirit. I knew nothing of the ballerina, but I have an interest in Soviet history and biographies, so this book is a perfect fit.

I believe the research to be meticulous and I can only imagine that at times, it must have bordered on overwhelming. There are two distinct threads; the personal story and the oppressive State story. The Stalinist regime was brutal in a way that’s difficult to understand. People lived in constant fear and fir no good reason could find they were victims of a purge and shipped off to the Gulag. Conditions there are described in graphic detail. How anyone could survive physically and mentally is beyond my imagination….but many did and that’s why biographies such as this are important. We learn so much about individual strength and the triumph of good over evil.

If you’re a ballet lover, you’ll possibly be disappointed with the general content. But at the same time, it was ballet that was fundamental to some of the strength required to endure the hardships. This is not a comfortable read. But it feels honest, even when at its most harrowing. I couldn’t tackle it in a single sitting. I read it in bits over about three weeks and certain passages still haunt me. Memorable and really well written, I’ve learned a great deal.

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In awe with the amount of research and sourcing that went into this book. At times it helped paint the picture, and was also at times too overwhelming with the amount of facts that the story was lost. I recommend after reading, to watch videos from Gayane and the Sabre dance- it’s incredible to see such beauty come from such hard times. It truly shows how remarkable this true story Dancing with Stalin is.

For me this wasn’t a quick read with so much factual information, but I’m so glad to have read it, and I did learn a lot!

Thank you, Netgalley and Elliott & Thompson, for the ARC. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Nina Aleksandrovna Anisimova was a ballerina at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad. She looked wonderful as she played the role. I'd love to see her. This woman has two faces. What? You will find out from the book "Dancing for Stalin". The image of the NKVD in Leningrad is very clearly presented. Literally scared to death. It's a good thing I didn't live in those days. In 1938, the NKVD burst into Nina's family home and searched her room. Her parents witnessed it. Why did it happen? Why did the NKVD take our heroine? What did she fall for them? See what her life was like before and after her arrest. Being in prison didn't help anyone. Read in what Spartan conditions the prisoners were interrogated. Until the heart breaks. Tears flow. And this is just the beginning... Was our ballerina a German spy? Was she spying for Hitler? Did she conduct criminal activity against the Soviets? Who made Nina smile even for a moment? Has she ever seen her family again? Of course, you'll find out in this book. Dancing for Stalin is an engaging read. The story hidden in the pages of this book is true. I was never interested in Nina Aleksandrovna Anisimova. So I am happy that I got to know her. This book is perfect for all lovers of history and biography. It is worth reading it and learning the real facts about Nina. This story evoked a lot of emotions in me. I am very pleased with it. Thank you to the author for introducing us to the life of Nina Aleksandrovna Anisimova. I leave you with the question, can art choose with politics?

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Christina Ezrahi brings to light the story of renowned character ballet dancer Nina Anisimova and her husband Kostia. In 1938, when she is arrested at the height of the Great Terror her husband must fight hard to free her from wrongful imprisonment. Their story is so well researched and fascinating. I was quite unaware of the terrors that went on in this time period not realizing the Soviet Union and Germany were both up to such terrible things at the same time.

Thank you to the Christina Ezrahi, and Elliott and Thompson Publishing for the eARC

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What a powerful read. This book is extremely well written and it is clear how much research the author put into it. Statlin's hold over Russia is a fascinating period in time and seeing how fear and terror reigned over everybody is an interesting read. I really liked the juxtaposition of the brutal, cold time period with the soft, delicate nature of ballet. Everything became a matter of distrust and they tried to put their stamp on everything.

The account started to drag a little (however, maybe one can view this as symbolic of how life dragged for those in the grips of terror and suffering for decades in the Gulags), however following one artists life through gave the symbol of hope and tugged at your heart. I also liked how alongside Anna's story we get insight into what was happening on a wider scale to art and artists (the mass exodus for example to safer Western countries).

This book would be great for individuals inspired by: 1) Russian History, 2) Strong females, 3) Ballet, 4) the persecution of artists or just those who simply love a biography.

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To say that this book has been well researched would be an offensive understatement. The Great Terror under Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1939. The Siege of Leningrad by Germany and subsequent evacuation from 1941-1943. These darkest parts of Soviet history have been obscured by more than just the passage of time.

Yet through meticulous research and the discovery of 75-year-old letters, author Christian Ezrahi has recreated the never-before-told story of dancer and choreographer Nina Anisimova, whose iron will rivaled the strength of the Iron Curtain.

Ezrahi sticks strictly to the history in a somewhat dry recounting of prison interrogations and letters. However, it is through records such as these that Ezrahi describes Anisimova’s remarkable experiences during what amounts to multiple years in exile from the loves of her life, both her husband, writer Konstantin Derzhavin, and the theater.

Dancing for Stalin: A Dancer’s Story of Courage and Survival in Soviet Russia is an excellent biography. It is not, however, one I would recommend to every reader. If you have a particular interest in the rise of communism and/or World War II history particularly related to the Soviet Union, I highly recommend this book. It left me wanting to learn more about other artists of this period such as Vaganova, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Pasternak.

If, on the other hand, you are drawn in by the word “Dancing” in the title, you may not find enough actual dance, beyond a history of the early Kirov Ballet, to keep you reading. The title is more of an ironic choice which the author doesn’t explain until the Epilogue, which was actually my favorite chapter of the book.

In the end, the beauty of Dancing for Stalin lies in its portrayal of triumph over a system bent on destruction–proof, as Ezrahi mentions more than once, that art is stronger than politics.

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Thank you so much for this advanced copy - a very well written insight into the system of communism under Stalin, an era that is often overlooked in history.

The story at times was very slow and could have had a bit more depth. However, the overall message was hard hitting.

A Nina’s story is the story of an era of terror, imprisonment, and a hard hitting communism regime.

Highly recommend - especially for the history lovers out there!

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