Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The Chosen Maiden"

Eva Stachniak is the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of four novels. The Winter Palace was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and made The Washington Post’s most notable fiction list in 2012. She holds a PhD in literature from McGill University. Born and raised in Poland, she moved to Canada in 1981, and lives in Toronto.

Stachniak applied the Page 69 Test to her newly released fifth novel, The Chosen Maiden, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I visit Vaslav every free moment I have. I read to him from his favourite books: Krylov’s fables, Tales of The Thousand and One Nights, Pushkin’s Onegin and Tolstoy’s Childhood. We play games and I let him beat me in chess—which is not easy, for Vaslav makes many rash moves I do not anticipate. I repeat to him all the praises I’ve heard about his dancing, of his lightness, his force, his dedication to perfecting every move. “Who said that?” he asks. Fokine? Cecchetti? Soon he is allowed to sit up then walk, and the doctors confirm that—in a month or two—he will be allowed to dance.

“Tell me what really happened?” I ask him a few times, but Vaslav shrugs off my question and says he doesn’t remember. Or that it is not important. Or that I wouldn’t understand anyway. When once I repeat the rumours that Bourman and Rosai smeared the floor with soap and then raised the music stand too high the moment he wasn’t looking, Vaslav’s cheeks turn white with rage.

“That’s a vicious lie, Bronia,” he screams. “It’s only stupid people who say such things.”

“How can you be so sure?”

But Vaslav doesn’t want to listen. He fixes me with his eyes and says, “I forbid you to ever mention it again.”
I wrote The Chosen Maiden because, after two novels about Catherine the Great, I wanted to re-live the end of Catherine’s Russia. What better subject than the imperial ballet artists who dazzled Paris and St. Petersburg and changed the course of modern dance? Especially the Nijinsky siblings: Vaslav—the God of Dance—and his sister Bronislava (Bronia) who, to prove her talent, had to free herself from her brother’s extraordinary fame. Having survived the tumultuous upheavals of the early decades of the 20th century, she’ll become not just a renowned dancer and teacher but also a groundbreaking choreographer, whose visions will secure her a firm place in the history of modern dance.

The novel, carefully researched, is written in Bronia’s voice and takes a reader on an intimate and dramatic journey. Bronia will dance in Paris, London, Monte Carlo. She will live through WWI and Russian Revolution, escape from Bolshevik Kiev, and choreograph for famous Ballets Russes, before the onset of WWII will force her to leave Europe for good.

Page 69 catches my heroine at a dramatic moment of her life. Bronia is a student in the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg where her older brother, Vaslav, is universally hailed as a rising star of Russian ballet. A few days before, however, Vaslav had been a victim of a vicious student prank which almost killed him. As the future God of the Dance is recuperating, his “so called friends” complicit in the accident come to visit. Bronia—younger but in many ways more mature and realistic than her brother—realizes how vulnerable Vaslav is, how fragile.

Future events will prove how significant this realization is.
Learn more about the book and author at Eva Stachniak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue