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Flight of the Swan


Flight of the Swan

In the FLIGHT OF THE SWAN, Rosario Ferre tells the story of Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina who, along with her entire company, was stranded in 1917 while on a tour of South America. They could not return to their homeland because of the revolution and political upheavals that had broken out, so from April to September of that year they had to stay on the lush and beautiful Caribbean island they had never heard of before --- Puerto Rico.

Ferre uses historical events in both Russia and Puerto Rico to set the stage upon which to tell Pavlova's story --- a tale of a performer so devoted to her art that she emerges as a doomed heroine who sacrifices all for the dance. But Ferre goes further, intricately weaving the strands of history around the love story she imagines happened between Pavlova and the Puerto Rican revolutionary, Diamontino.

Masha, "Madame's" loyal and loving maid, tells the story. "I knew more about Madame than anyone else in the company: who her biological father was; about her mother [Lyubovna Fedorovna], who was killed in the war, when Madame was only two years old. I knew all of her [she] managed to enter the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, why she married...a con man and stayed with him for so many years. The knowledge gave me power...I was the keeper of her flame."

At one point in the narrative, counterrevolutionary forces kidnap Pavlova along with Masha and Diamontino. Her captors demand a ransom of 50,000 dollars or she will die. "But the American government will never pay that much for a Russian ballerina, not even a famous one." Pavlova persuades her captors to allow her to return to San Juan where she thinks she can raise the money. But her captors have no special esteem for her or her art --- they ridicule her and guffaw and respond in the grossest manner when she tries to entertain them. And soon Diamontino is dead.

Ferre is a gifted storyteller. FLIGHT OF THE SWAN is rich in history and conveys the many facets of the ways of the "artiste" and the nature of love. Masha says, "I had never loved anyone the way Madame loved Diamontino. Except her: I had loved her much more." Pavlova tells her loyal maid that love transforms the world.

In the novel, Ferre captures the romance of the tropics and its effects on the Russian dancers. Her poetic language sparkles and shimmers in its descriptions of the dance, the dancer, and her glow as she is juxtaposed against the lush setting. FLIGHT OF THE SWAN is an homage to a woman of legend who in her lifetime touched many people and through her devotion to her art displayed a strong and vital character. Anna Pavlova is a role model to us all, and in telling her story, Rosario Ferre has created a fascinating novel.

   --- Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum

Reviewed by Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011

Flight of the Swan
by Rosario Ferré

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2002
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452283310
  • ISBN-13: 9780452283312