Colum McCann, Author . Holt/Metropolitan $26 (356p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6792-7

A chorus of voices breathe new life into the story of Rudolf Nureyev, one of ballet's greatest performers, in this vibrant, imaginative patchwork of a novel by Irish expatriate McCann (This Side of Brightness, etc.). As a seven-year-old peasant boy in 1944, Rudi dances for wounded soldiers in a hospital ward during World War II. By the mid-1950s he has outgrown life in the tiny Soviet town of Ufa, his unfailing determination to perform (against the stern wishes of his father) driving him into the wider world. It is his stubborn persistence more than his natural talent that distinguishes him, but his first teachers see great potential in him, and he is accepted into a ballet company in Leningrad. He defects to France and later moves on to Italy, where "the ovations become more exhausting than the dance" and he is sucked into the drug and disco culture of the late '70s, even after his partner Margot Fonteyn urges him to stay focused. A relationship with New York gay hustler Victor Pareci allows Rudi to indulge his wildest impulses, but his brashness and self-absorption are tempered when he journeys back to his homeland in 1987 in the touching conclusion. The sections narrated by different characters, some central and some marginal, create a kaleidoscopic effect. Faithfully capturing the pathos and grim poverty of the Soviet Union at mid-century, McCann also reveals a splashy tabloid affinity for the excesses and effects of fame and notoriety. Though the focus here is narrower than that of McCann's previous works, the novel is a lovely showcase for his fluid prose and storytelling skill. (Jan. 6)

Forecast:Balletomanes are the core audience for this novel, but Nureyev's appeal transcends the world of dance and should attract plenty of general readers as well. McCann's fans may be taken aback by his move from grit to gloss, but those who brave Dancer will likely enjoy it. Author tour.

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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