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Astonish Me: A novel

Astonish Me: A novel

"As both a dancer and an audience member, I'm neither a complete layperson nor an expert in the world of ballet, and Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me stands up for readers on both ends of the spectrum. It begins with a young American ballerina helping a Soviet star defect to the United States, and follows her as she grows into, then leaves, then returns to a life in ballet. Shipstead's descriptions of dancers in action are some of the clearest and most lovely I've read and the atmosphere of artistry, routine, and competition she creates rings true. But while ballet dancers are physically and artistically rarefied beings, it is her characters' humanity that makes this book worth the time of any reader, regardless of how many left feet you may have."

Rachel C.

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Author Maggie Shipstead
Publisher Knopf
Publication Date 2014-04-08
Section New Hardcover - Fiction / All Staff Suggestions / Fiction Suggestions / Rachel C.
Type New
Format Hardcover
ISBN 9780307962904

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.

After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms Shipstead’s range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art. 

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