Dancer : a novel

by Colum McCann

Paperback, 2003





New York : Picador, 2004, c2003.


This novel opens with a scene of war which is destined to become a classic: trudging back from the front through a ravaged and icy wasteland, their horses dying around them, their own hunger rendering them almost savage, the Russian soldiers are exhausted as they reach the city of Ufa, desperate for food and shelter. They find both, and then music and dance. And there, spinning unafraid among them, dancing for the soldiers and anyone else who¿ll watch him, is one small pale boy, Rudolf. This is Colum McCann¿s dancer. Rudolf, a prodigy at six years old, became the greatest dancer of the century, redefined dance, rewrote his own life, and died of AIDS before anyone knew he had it. This is an extraordinary life transformed into extraordinary fiction by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation. One kind of masculine grace is perfectly matched to another in Colum McCann¿s beautiful and daring novel.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wiltwhatman
McCann's fictional biography of Nureyev explodes balletically across the page. From the grim industrial steppes of postwar Soviet subsistence, through initial triumphs, and emerging precocity. At times shrill, at thimes insecure, at times unexpectedly magnificent, McCanns Nureyev is a character anchored in time, and adrift in it. Set apart from and of his places. Of the past and of the present. Hooked in time and mercilessly adrift from it. Repellent and compelling. Fragile and harsh. Brilliant and ridiculous. And with a note of melancholy and ineveitable sacrifice and memory throughout that McCann manages to sound with deftness, avoiding any oversentimentality.

He depicts the complexity of character, the ramshackle and banal poverty of humdrum totalitarianism, the coexistence of intense and meaningless frivolity, vindictive insecurity, and ruthless artistic perfectionism, in a careful reconstruction of time, place and personality.

McCanns realisation has a sense of true integrity to it. A sense of understanding, and carefully crafted character, that, though ficitional, seeks to uncover the character entirely on it's own terms.

As a biography, it is of course, fictional. As fiction, it shares in character with other great work the feel of carefully crafted and ruthless truth.
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LibraryThing member abandoned
Like trying to capture smoke with your hands... How do you define an enigma like Nureyev? McCann manages to gift us with gorgeous fragment's of the Dancer's personlity, the times in which he lived & the people in his life. Loved this book & looking forward to reading others written by Mr. McCann.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
All of a sudden, about an hour into this novel, I realized the author was setting Rudolf Nureyev up as the protagonaist. The novel is fictional, and is really more about the ripples experienced by the people in his life, in the life of a famous person. In the novel, Margot Fonteyn (Nureyev's partner for many years) says that the dancer's life is magnificently full, and desperately empty at the same time. That statement really sums up the gist of the story. Passion and tragedy walk hand in hand throughout his life. I have gathered that from some biographies of famous individuals, particularly "Long Walk To Freedom" by Nelsom Mandela. It seems that fame requires adjustment to a level of imbalance in life which, from the outside looking in, seems exquisitely painful. Very good book!… (more)
LibraryThing member lucthegreat
This book was everything. Utterly immersive, descriptive, and world-opening. Characters too weird to be fake, homoerotic bathhouse antics too perverse to be invented. Ass was kicked by this book.
LibraryThing member ivanlippi4
Colum McCann changes frequently the focus to light the man more than the mith.
LibraryThing member lesleynicol
This was a good read. I thought Nureyev was a real sh.t ,who was prepared to sacrifice everybody for his own success. but then I forgave him for the wonderful talent that he shared with the world . The writer (one of my favourites) gives a wonderful insight into the lives of the people who were affected by him.
LibraryThing member sunnycouger
I have an interest with the cold war and the defections that took place during the height of communism so it's kinda surprising that I haven't read more on the subject. This book covers that, ticks the Russia box plus throws in some dance and was on special offer, which all appeals to me.

I think mostly everyone has seen, whether they know it or not, a little bit of Rudolf Nureyev dance. He was a superstar and his early performances can be found on youtube still but I knew nothing about him apart from the fact that he was an amazing ballet dancer who had defected in the early 60s. This book wasn't exactly a biography because it had amalgamations of people, and suppposings flung in amongst the facts, but there was enough truth about it to be informative.

The actual style of the book was weird for me. Speech wasn't shown conventionally, the book was split into books with very few chapters within them and perspective would shift from one character to another from page to page without telling you who it was you were reading so it kept you on your toes as you were reading. It was a little confusing at times, but it was engrossing enough that I wanted to stick with it anyway.

It covered 'Rudi' Nureyev's life from child-hood to his trip home and ended with the auction prices his belongings had sold for after his death. He was a complex character - a perfectionist who was at times deeply unlikeable but at others you almost wanted to shelter him. His relationship with Margot Fontaine was portrayed beautifully, which (combined with her financial issues) explained why they continued to dance together for so long (she still danced with him when she was 69 years old and he was 50). Rudi was decadent and used and discarded men for pleasure yet never really found any deep, lasting love or pleasure in life. The most touching part of the book for me was his visit home to see his dying mother in 1989, nearly 30 years after his defection. He showered his sister and niece with gifts and refused to leave his mother until she recognised him, but she never did.

It was a good book and has me curious as to maybe reading a different account that would perhaps be a little more thorough. I just don't know enough about him to know which parts of the story were fictionalised and enhanced for dramatic purposes (he even admits some of the celebrity accounts weren't accurate, which is a shame because they were fascinating) so eventually I might get an actual biography and try and find out what is right and what's not.

Still though, it was definitely worth a read so not going to complain too much.
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LibraryThing member aulsmith
Whatever happened to third-person narration?? When authors wanted to cover a subject from multiple view points, they used to write their novel in third person. Not any more. Now we have books like this--incredibly awkward jumbles of multiple first person narrations, requiring the reader to have to figure out who the current narrator is as well as where and when the current bit is taking place. In third the author could have told us and saved me much trouble and annoyance.

And, quite frankly, I found a number of the individual stories much more interesting and compelling than the overall story of Nureyev. I would have been happy to have a novel or short story about a Russian nurse in World War II or the daughter of a political dissident living in Leningrad or teacher in Ufa with a brother who defects to the West or a gay hanger on in the 1970s (though that one is pretty well covered in Holleran's Dancer from the Dance).

As the novel exists, it was okay. I would have stopped reading except it was for my book group. Pre- and post-AIDS gay life is well depicted. Ballet culture is always interesting. The theme of sacrifice for art (including to some extent, celebrity as a sacrifice) was interesting. But I would have rather been reading something else.
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LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
This was an impulse grab at the library, and turned into a really fascinating fictionalized account of the life of dancer Rudolf Nuryev. Along with his star-touched life, it gave insight into the harsh world of Soviet Russia in the 20th century, which was equally intriguing. Outside of my normal "box", but I'm very glad I gave this one a chance.… (more)
LibraryThing member seeword
Dramatic fictional account of the life and career of Rudolf Nureyev. Told from several points of view: family, friends, colleagues, employees, and others. A little disjointed and it jumps around a bit, but it works.
Library book.
LibraryThing member Romonko
This book was so good! I loved every minute of it. It tells the story of the man who is arguably the best male classical ballet dancer in history - Rudolf Nureyev. Rudolf was born in 1938 in Ula, Russia. The Second World War was just beginning, and Rudolf's father who was a Communist party member, was instructing soldiers to fight on the Russian front. Rudolf was born on a train near Irktisk, Siberia. His mother Farida fleeing to Ula when he arrived in the world. He lived his early life in poverty, but his mother instilled in the young Rudyk a love of ballet and dance. In spite of all the odds against him, Rudyk received training from a retired prima ballerina who lived in the town. Rudolf lived for dancing and read and practiced every-time he could. Against all odds, he was accepted into the Kurov school of classical ballet and trained under the great Pushkin. He made his way up quickly in the corp until he was soon dancing solos and main parts. His ballet took him around the world until 1961, when he defected to France. From there we see Nureyev's career as he packs halls all around the world. These are the bones of his life, but this book, with its unique narrative changes, describes so much more about his life. We see Rudolf through the eyes of his family, Through the eyes of his many different mentors, as well as through his many friends, partners and staff. This form of building narrative gives different viewpoints of the Rudolf's rise to fame and fortune. Mr. McCann's narrative style is immersive and unyielding We see Rudolf through the many highs and lows of his life, and the price he paid with the loss of his family and home in his pursuit of the dance. I waited to watch him dance until I had finished the book, and I was totally impressed with his skill and dedication to his art. To Rudolf, dance was everything, and his only reason for living. The book takes us to 1987 and in that year Rudolf has come full circle. He has been a fugitive from Russian justice for over 20 years, but a 48 hour leave is granted for him to enter Russia to see his dying mother. He comes back full circle to his childhood life, and manages to see his family and the family of his early mentor before he has to go back to England. He is already under the influence of the disease that eventually kills him. He dies in Paris, France in 1993 of complications from Aids. This is a book to fall down into and to wallow in once you're reading it. McCann is an incredible writer and I need to read more of his fabulous work.… (more)
LibraryThing member maryreinert
This is a fictionalized life of the famous Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Read this simply because it is written by Colm McCann but must admit this is my least favorite of his. Told in much the same fashion as his other books, the reader gradually gets to know the background, the character, and the friends of Nureyev.

Born in a peasant village of Tarter parents, Nureyev exhibited talent at a very young age and was fortunate to come in contact with a exiled Russian ballerina who taught him the basics. From there he went to Kiev where he made a name for himself. It was to a trip of the Russian Ballet to Paris that he defected. This caused his family a huge amount of trouble and disgrace.

He went on to become perhaps the most outstanding dancer of his time seemingly being able to hold himself in the air during his leaps. He found a soul-partner in Margot Fontaine even though she was 20 years older. His personal life, however, was a total mess involving many who surrounded him only for his fame.

There were parts of this story that I truly enjoyed; other parts that I almost skipped. A long "stream of consciousness" chapter with Victor, his lover as the main focus left me totally cold. The book was interesting enough that I read and watched several videos of Nureyev. There are parts of the books that are beautifully written especially the final chapters when he is allowed to visit for 48 hours back to his home town to see his mother and sister.
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LibraryThing member jostie13
The Victor chapter was the slog for me, though I loved the similar one-long-sentence effect when it was applied in the Tom Ashcroft chapter earlier about making ballet shoes. The final paragraph was a knife to the gut.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
I really enjoyed the beginning of this work, but as the sections kept going and the stylings of different sections became more diverse, I found it harder and harder to connect with either the characters or the story of Nureyev's life. Much as I loved McCann's writing, I just couldn't get as involved in the story as I wanted to, though I found certain sections and chapters impossible to put down. Certainly, it was an interesting read... but probably not one I'll return to.

I'd recommend it to interested readers, and to readers interested in dance or in novels told in experimental or varying designs and levels.
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