Maya Plisetskaya, , trans. from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis, foreword by Tim Scholl. . Yale Univ., $35 (472pp) ISBN 978-0-300-08857-1

This is much more than an artistic memoir—it is a courageous account of an era. Plisetskaya was born in Moscow in 1925, joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1943, and became one of its most acclaimed prima ballerinas (and one of the best-known in the West), performing into the 1990s. But as she makes clear, her life has been one of daily struggle. Plisetskaya's father, a rising apparatchik in the coal industry, was executed in 1935. Her mother, an actress, was then sentenced to eight years in prison. Taken in by a ballerina aunt, Pisetskaya was allowed to continue her dance training; but a pattern of persecution by authorities had been established. Even after she was well established at the Bolshoi, and despite years of pleading, Plisetskaya was forbidden to tour outside the country until 1959, and then she went under tight guard, always returning home, even during the years of the notable defections of Nureyev, Makarova and Baryshnikov. In Moscow, she was trotted out to perform for visiting dignitaries (Mao, Ribbentrop and Tito among them) and was routinely humiliated and artistically encumbered by a punitive bureaucracy. Plisetskaya says she's unable to put into words exactly why she never defected—her marriage to a Russian composer was part of it. Every page attests to bitter, poignant regrets. Her account is sometimes rambling, sometimes garbled in translation; but Plisetskaya makes horrifyingly clear the life of an honored artist in her homeland: the artistic paucity (in contrast with the "Balanchine years" in the U.S.) is one element; the degradation of daily life for Soviet citizens is another; and Plisetskaya, as is her reputation, pulls no punches here. (Oct.)

Forecast:Plisetskaya is a major ballet star, and her memoirs will sell well among dance lovers.