Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp

Title: The True Memoirs of Little K
Author: Adrienne Sharp
ISBN: 9780374207304
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Hardcover, 384 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

First Line: My name is Mathilde Kschessinska, and I was the greatest Russian ballerina on the imperial stages.

In 1971, a tiny, 100-year-old woman sits down to write her memoirs of everything she knows to be true. She is Mathilde Kschessinska, once the greatest ballerina on the Russian imperial stage. Born to Polish parents, when the extremely competitive Kschessinska was enrolled in ballet school, she set high goals for herself. She became the best ballerina; she became the lover of tsarevich Nicholas Romanov; she became wealthy beyond her dreams. In the end, she lost everything but her memories.

I had a difficult time reading this book for two reasons. The first is a technicality: not everyone can sit down and read undisturbed for a lengthy period of time. I've learned to look for paragraph breaks as natural stopping points. This book is 384 pages of very, very long paragraphs, and I was surprised to find that one little thing was tiring. It may sound picky, but it's a detail that I noticed over and over again.

The second reason why this book could be difficult to read can be found in the character of Kschessinska herself. Throughout the book, she is unapologetically opportunistic. She thinks nothing of using slander and sabotage (among other things) to get what she wants. I found that, after a few pages of her machinations, I wanted to stop and do something else. However, her unflinching honesty was refreshing. She may have enough pride for three people, and she may not be sorry for anything she's done, but at least she tells the truth.

I hear that visitors to my mansion, now the State Museum of Political History, to this day ask  to see the entrance to the secret tunnel that once linked the palace of the dancer Kschessinska to the palace of the tsar. Political history does not interest them. I interest them.

The one thing about Sharp's book that held me spellbound was her depiction of a vanished world. Tsarist Russia may have been filled with decadence and cruelty, but it was also filled with incredible beauty-- a land of vast contradictions as so many countries are.

I enjoyed Sharp's skill in weaving her believable fictional tale around historical figures I've read so much about. She also provided more background into the history of ballet and helped me put several dancers in their proper context.

If you love novels set in the Russia of Nicholas and Alexandra, you should love this book-- as long as your heroines don't have to be scrupulously honest in their morals and behavior.


  1. The long paragraphs with few stopping points is a bit off-putting, but I like stories that take place in Russia and I like the ballet connection too. This sounds like one to check out of the library.

  2. I love the sound of the book, but I don't think that I would get enough undisturbed time to 'get into it' and do it justice.

    Definitely one to make a note of, in case I ever have a prolonged 'at home' period.


  3. I like the idea of this one, it sounds intriguing. However, I detest long paragraphs (and chapters). That alone might make me keep passing on this one.

  4. I do know what you mean about the long paragraphs, but the book still sounds good to me.

  5. Beth-- It was annoying, but it certainly didn't keep me from continuing to read!

    Yvonne-- For some reason, the book needed more concentration, and I usually don't have a problem with that at all.

    Kris-- This is something that might be better as an audiobook.

    Kathy-- It is very good... just a couple of annoying bits for me.


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