by Colum McCann
A Performance Worthy of its Subject
A review by Adrienne Miller
Only a novelist as deep, intelligent, and intuitive as Colum McCann could have written such a book. His tour de force about the Russian ballet star/international celebrity Rudolf Nureyev is so good, in fact, that it's guaranteed to send multitudes of lesser writers into fits of hand-wringing "I Can't Do That!" despair. The Nureyev who emerges from this many-voiced narrative is a willful, impossible, generous, mad, and lonely man, whom we first meet when he's a child in the grim (to say the least) Soviet town of Ufa during the war. The trajectory of Nureyev's incredible life and career should be familiar to just about anyone who was paying attention during the second half of the century: the early stardom, Leningrad, the exile, Paris, the genius, London, the seven-hundred-performance partnership with Margot Fonteyn, the wealth, New York, the uncontrollable appetites (sexual, etc.), the tragic, tragic decline. The characters who tell Nureyev's story are all bound together by their need, by their need of him, and, perhaps more importantly, by their need of what he represents. "Something about him released people from the world, tempted them out," says a former dear friend of Rudolf's after seeing him for the first time in thirty years. "Here comes loneliness applauding itself all the way down the street," thinks a lover. "The perfection is not so much in the performance as in the journey towards it. This is the joy. You must burn!" says McCann's Nureyev. While we can't buy a ticket to see Nureyev dance anymore (and how Dancer so made me wish I somehow had), we can read McCann's novel, which is indeed a miraculous achievement. The great Nureyev himself would have demanded nothing less.
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