Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy"

Elizabeth Kiem’s novel Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy tells the story of a young ballerina who is forced to flee the Soviet Union after her mother is branded an Enemy of the People. It takes place in both Moscow and Brooklyn in the early 1980s.

Kiem took the Page 69 Test and reported the following:
It’s interesting that page 69 is perhaps the only page in the novel that deliberately skips quickly over events to catch the reader up with Marina’s radically changed situation. Most of the book lingers in real-time and in present tense: the five days during which Marina learns that her mother has fallen afoul of the Soviet secret police; the first week of Marina’s confusing new life; and finally, the pivotal days around a Valentine’s Day ‘massacre’ that reveal the truth behind so many mysteries and mistaken motivations.

But page 69 is a “here’s what you missed” page – and though it’s really not representative of the pace of the book, I like its reflection enough that I have chosen it for more than one public reading. I think it captures the enormity of Marina’s physical and emotional dislocation:

Page 69, Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy:
I don’t remember the things I said to my father as we rocked across the Black Sea, which I had never known as anything other than sparkling blue and about six feet deep. (That’s if you are swimming distance from the tanned, oiled lifeguards and the cold apricot juice sold by the cripple with the cart on the boardwalk. But the Black Sea is black when you are far from shore. It’s a very wide sea indeed if you are contraband and en route to the West for the first time ever under a very dark cloud.)

I don’t even really remember Greece, my first taste of the West. I was sick when we arrived in Athens. Pop found medical help until my fever went down. She’s improving, I kept hearing, in my delirium. I had hoped that I was overhearing a conversation about my mother.

By the time I was well, my father had secured everything we needed to continue. On November 30, 1982, we arrived at John F. Kennedy airport in New York.

That was three weeks ago. Every day since then I have listened to the planes overhead coming in for landing. I’ve wondered what their stories are, the people who are joining me in exile.
Visit Elizabeth Kiem’s Tumblr, and read more about Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue