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The Chosen Maiden


The Chosen Maiden

“If it’s not one thing, it’s your brother” has been a phrase my sister and I have exchanged for years. I couldn’t help but think of that as I read Eva Stachniak’s new novel. Bronislava --- or Bronia for short --- Nijinsky is the younger sister of the famous Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. She grew up dancing in his prodigious shadow, striving to be as famous and accomplished as he was. THE CHOSEN MAIDEN is focused on Bronia, told from her point of view with remarkable detail and bringing a whole new take on the term “sibling rivalry.”

Born to dancer parents, Bronia and her two brothers are destined to follow in their footsteps. Vaslav is clearly going to excel and succeed in the competitive world of Russian ballet. He is a gifted child and is accepted to the Imperial Ballet School at a young age. A few years later, Bronia, not outwardly as talented as her brother but dedicated and determined, is accepted to the Imperial School as well. There they learn and dance, and when Vaslav graduates, he is offered a prime place in the Russian Imperial Ballet, skipping the corps de ballet where most young dancers have to start and jumping ahead to parts reserved for more seasoned dancers. Bronia, too, is offered a place in the company upon her graduation. She lands in the corps and is happy to be there.

"THE CHOSEN MAIDEN is a very detailed story, and it’s clear that Stachniak has done an enormous amount of research for this novel."

After a few years of dancing with the Imperial Ballet, Vaslav meets Sergei Diaghilev, and both siblings are invited to dance for a season in Paris. After working with Diaghilev and dancing in Paris, they both relinquish their places with the Imperial Ballet to join Diaghilev’s company Ballet Russe, where the ballets have the freedom to be more modern, and Vaslav has the chance to choreograph while Bronia’s ability to rise higher in the ranks of the company are greatly improved.

It is with Ballet Russe that Bronia meets Sasha, a handsome dancer newly arrived from Moscow who attempts to sweep her off her feet and into his heart. She eventually relents, and they marry, while Vaslav tries his hand at edgy new ballets, ripe with sexual overtones that tend to leave audiences confused and at odds over whether it was a good or bad experience. Eventually Vaslav takes the company to Argentina, where he marries the early 20th-century equivalent of a groupie while Bronia and Sasha return to St. Petersburg and await the arrival of their first child.

Soon war breaks out across Europe while the Bolshevik Revolution begins to take flight. Sasha leaves to fight for Russia, while Bronia and her mother --- who has followed her children around Europe to support their artistic endeavors --- stay behind and try to outlive the war. This is a period of political and personal turmoil for Bronia. Once-sturdy relationships begin to falter, Vaslav’s mental health is on a steady decline, and Bronia must navigate a changing landscape with little support from anyone except her mother as she strives to continue on with dancing and choreography in a modern and changing world.

THE CHOSEN MAIDEN is a very detailed story, and it’s clear that Stachniak has done an enormous amount of research for this novel. It’s a little long-winded, however, with so much detail, and the tedium of Bronia’s thoughts and descriptions detract from her incredible life. Nevertheless, the prose is beautiful, and the story ultimately is a lovely account of a woman who fought to be recognized for her hard work, talent and dedication to her craft at a time when the world was agog with only that of her brother.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on January 27, 2017

The Chosen Maiden
by Eva Stachniak

  • Publication Date: January 17, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada
  • ISBN-10: 0385678568
  • ISBN-13: 9780385678568