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Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Review

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Marina Dukovskaya just wants to become the ballerina she knows she could be. Endless practice, grueling routines and high standards --- these are all things she can tolerate. But when her mother Svetlana unexpectedly disappears into the belly of the Soviet state, Marina’s life is turned upside down. Suddenly her days don’t revolve around pirouettes and toe shoes. She and her father, fearing for their welfare, must escape their lives of luxury as part of Moscow’s cultural elite and find themselves alone in New York’s Brighton Beach, in the winter of 1982.

"Kiem skillfully creates the setting of the Soviet lifestyle by dropping Russian words and mannerisms into the story, and describing traditions and habits adopted to cope with the oppressiveness of the regime."

Elizabeth Keim has created an unusual protagonist in DANCER DAUGHTER TRAITOR SPY. Marina is not the fearless, self-reliant protagonist of so many young adult adventures. She is hesitant; shaped, undoubtedly, by her childhood and youth in Soviet Russia, where one must take care to abide (or at least appear to abide) by party ideology at all times. Although she is the daughter of privilege as the child of the Bolshoi Ballet’s long time leading lady, her mother’s magnetism has encouraged Marina to hide behind Svetlana for most of her life. While her mother’s disappearance is the great tragedy in Marina’s life, it also forces her to take much more responsibility for herself. Her exile to Brooklyn is empowering despite her heartbreak, and allows her to discover her own strength of character.

The book is a genre hopper --- part spy novel, part supernatural, part romance and part historical fiction. Kiem skillfully creates the setting of the Soviet lifestyle by dropping Russian words and mannerisms into the story, and describing traditions and habits adopted to cope with the oppressiveness of the regime. While the death of Brezhnev is overshadowed by Svetlana’s disappearance, the mourning of the population somehow acts as a fitting backdrop for Marina’s own worries. Meanwhile, her escape to the United States is only a partial getaway; though thousands of miles are between Marina and her homeland, in Brooklyn she continues to run up against Russian gangsters, the KGB and shadowy law enforcement figures somehow tied to the cold war.

In spite of these threatening powers that continue to surround her, she begins to settle in Brooklyn. She returns to the stage, finding a place to dance at Juilliard, and a focus once more for her energy. Despite feeling more centered, she continues to have spells of dizziness in which she sees events foreshadowing the future. As it turns out, Svetlana also had these bouts, but they allowed her to see the past. In fact, it was a state secret revealed to her during one of them that got her in trouble in the first place. While these bouts serve as a dramatic narrative tool, they seem pretty unnecessary. Marina would be equally insightful without blackouts.

Most importantly, though, she meets Ben, an earlier emigrant to the U.S., who takes an interest in showing the recent arrival her way around. In Ben, Marina finds the support, consistency and affection that she has sought from her mother for years. And while her life gets worse in the U.S. before it gets better, the promise of Ben suggests that a future exists for Marina in Brooklyn, on stage and off.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on September 23, 2013

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy
by Elizabeth Kiem

  • Publication Date: August 13, 2013
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Teen
  • ISBN-10: 1616952636
  • ISBN-13: 9781616952631