by Yona Zeldis McDonough

European History

Two novels with epistolary power

“Letters mingle souls,” wrote the poet John Donne. In the novels Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay (Harper Collins, $25.99) and Far to Go by Alison Pick (Harper Perennial, $14.99), letters play a pivotal role. The letters in Russian Winter are written by murdered Soviet poet Viktor Elsin. Or at least that’s the contention of Grigori Solodin, a shy, bookish professor of Russian. Grigori has translated the letters, along with Elsin’s poetry, but their origin remains elusive for they bear neither salutation nor signature. He suspects they were written to Elsin’s wife, Nina Revskaya, a Bolshoi ballerina. Grigori’s interest in the letters — and in Nina herself, whom he has attempted to contact — is more than academic, for he suspects that the letters are the key to finding the biological parents who gave him to his adoptive family.

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