Thursday, June 12, 2014

#REVIEW - "Astonish Me" by Maggie Shipstead

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements,winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.
Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.
After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.
Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms Shipstead’s range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art.

My Take:
I LOVE ballet. Ballet is an Art. I danced ballet for 13 years in my youth. I never would have quit ballet except for the fact 'by today's standards', I do not have that dancer's body of 5'7, straight as a board, thin as a toothpick where my bones stick out, and no chest or hips - HA! I ended up falling very short at 5'3 and blessed with too many curves, and I ate food, so that dream I had to be a prima ballerina died, sadly. Had it been eighty to one hundred years prior, I probably would have made it into a dance company, but somewhere in there the dancer's body requirements changed. Bummer! I danced every day of my life in our basement. I practiced, practiced, and practiced. I danced on pointe, read about ballet, dreamt of ballet, and attended ballet classes and ballets when they were in Detroit. I wouldn't have even made it as a dancer in the Corps. 
Dancing in the Corps are the other dancers who dance in the background or in the sidelines of the prima ballerina, and where our main character, Joan, falls. There is nothing wrong with dancing there, but every dancer's dream is to be the one in the spotlight, to be the prima ballerina, but sometimes dancers can't be happy in the Corps. They feel only second best, and unfortunately, such as Joan, as much as she tries to become the prima in some performances, she just doesn't make it. The closest Joan gets is her relationship with Arslan Rusakov. He does love her, but his life is in ballet, and he is the best there is. Think Mikhail Baryshnikov. There are very similar references to him through this book.This is where Joan finds out she is pregnant and knows her career in a ballet company is over, for the most part. She moves back to the US, and marries. She ends up having a son, Harry, who wants nothing to do with with ballet, that is until his neighbor starts dancing. Harry ends up becoming a prodigy, and he doesn't really want to move on without the love of his life, and measures every other ballerina to her. I was mesmerized by this part of the book. Harry does move on, but never forgets his prima ballerina.
Ballet is an Art, and an Art demands discipline from you, and I can see many areas in my life where that has come in very helpful, and others where it has been a detriment as I have stuck with things too long. This book, for many, may demand some discipline to read, and to keep reading it to the end, but if you do, you will find a very surprising and a complete finish demanding you to stand up and shout, 'BRAVO!' I found it a beautiful read, a 'non-put-downable read. I was immersed inside of this story flipping pages like a wild woman, but, for those of you who are not familiar with the ballet terms, or in love with ballet like I am, this book may get a little difficult to read at times, or to even connect with our main character, Joan. I would like to say to stick with it, if you can. It is a very rewarding story to read, and my favorite part was the last half of the book when her son finally discovered his love of ballet, and he becomes a professional like Rusakov. The book takes the focus off of Joan, mostly, at this point, and we follow Harry's love of ballet, and his infatuation/mentor, Arslan Rusakov.
While this book may not be for everyone, for those who like or are even in love with ballet, grab this book and immerse into the world of it! You won't regret it!
Notice on the cover the pink satin ribbons that are from the ballet slippers? Yep! I loved this book! I hope those of you I have just described will love this book just a much as I did!
I received this book for FREE from the Publisher, Knopf Publishing through NetGalley, in exchange to read and write a review about it. "Free" means I was provided with ZERO MONIES to do so, but to enjoy the pure pleasure of reading it and giving my own honest opinion no matter whether it is positive or negative. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the law set here:, The Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255, 16 CFR 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising Federal Acquisition  Regulation.  

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