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Readers familiar with books movies about ballet will recognize many of the character types in this story youngsters desperate to be professional dancers, older men dancers and choreographers taking advantage of their young charges, unfaithful lovers, and so on The girl at the center of this story is Joan, a so so ballet dancer who managed by dint of many years of lessons, practice, and sacrifice to become a minor member of an American ballet corps.During a visit to Paris, Joan met Arsla Readers familiar with books movies about ballet will recognize many of the character types in this story youngsters desperate to be professional dancers, older men dancers and choreographers taking advantage of their young charges, unfaithful lovers, and so on The girl at the center of this story is Joan, a so so ballet dancer who managed by dint of many years of lessons, practice, and sacrifice to become a minor member of an American ballet corps.During a visit to Paris, Joan met Arslan Rusakov, a superstar of the Russian ballet Joan became enthralled with Arslan and a few years later, when the Russians performed in Canada, helped him defect to the United States A brief relationship blossomed between Joan and Arslan but Rusakov was serially unfaithful and eventually married another ballerina, breaking Joan s heart Helping Joan navigate this drama is her roommate Elaine..an excellent ballerina who becomes the muse of bisexual choreographer Mr K Meanwhile Joan s best friend since childhood, a boy named Jacob, has been pining away for her forever After the Arslan affair, and realizing she would never be a principal dancer, Joan gave in to Jacob s pleas and married him.They had a son, Harry, a sweet boy who seemed interested in everything in the world except ballet In time, though, Harry developed a crush on his neighbor playmate, a little girl named Chloe Joan eventually becomes a ballet teacher, and when little Chloe becomes interested in dancing this seems to galvanize Harry s interest as well The Harry Chloe story of two kids growing up together is a little reminiscent of the relationship between Joan and Jacob except that Harry and Chloe both get involved in ballet The book spans a time period of about thirty years, starting in the 1970s and ending in the late 1990s Rather than being chronological, however, the story jumps back and forth in time, eventually revealing important events in Joan s life as well as what goes on with Harry and Chloe as they grow up The plot coasts along to a climax that s inevitable, though it plays out in a fashion that s not very believable I d categorize the book as part expose of the world of professional ballet and part coming of age story To me the book was mildly engaging, filled with characters that behaved badly and weren t particularly likable Just an okay book for me.You can follow my reviews at (((E-pub))) ↶ Astonish Me ↡ From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles TimesBook 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 inA 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 From the Hardcover edition This is not a showy, sprawling, epic novel instead, it is compact, and quietly elegant, and if I may perfectly choreographed Remnants of my childhood obsession with the movie Center Stage are still floating around, so with the combination of ballet and smooth, poignant writing, it was impossible for me not to love this Astonish Me is told through the eyes of various characters in small vignette chapters, but it is primarily Joan s story Mildly talented, but without that necessary it fact This is not a showy, sprawling, epic novel instead, it is compact, and quietly elegant, and if I may perfectly choreographed Remnants of my childhood obsession with the movie Center Stage are still floating around, so with the combination of ballet and smooth, poignant writing, it was impossible for me not to love this Astonish Me is told through the eyes of various characters in small vignette chapters, but it is primarily Joan s story Mildly talented, but without that necessary it factor to become a proper and celebrated professional ballerina, Joan lives a life in the corps that is mostly unremarkable Her dancing days are over when she becomes pregnant and marries Jacob, who has been devoted to her since high school Their convenient marriage slowly develops into one of love, but their son Harry reintroduces another component into the family ballet As he grows, so does his talent, and this brings Joan and Jacob right back into the dancing world Also entwined in the story are Chloe, the neighbours daughter who is also very interested in the art of ballet, Elaine, Joan s roommate from the company a fartalented soloist turned artistic director, and of course, Arslan Rusakov Arslan, the magical, near perfect Russian dancer who defects from Russia after a brief encounter with a young Joan She drives the getaway car, falls into an affair with him, and has her heart broken and then is brought back into his orbit years later when he becomes Harry s idol and mentor Ranging from the 70s to the early 2000s, the story skips back and forth as it presents the very compelling stories of each of these characters and brings them both together and apart.The book is about family, and truth, and love, but it is mostly about ballet, and how it takes and takes and takes and gives very little, but the dancers do it anyway for the power, and the too fleeting glory, and the fact that they have given their whole lives to ballet and they wouldn t know what else to do Ballet presents the sliver of hope that one day you might be able to reach perfectionNever in her life, not once, has she danced the way she wishes to, but futility has become an accepted companion The ideal that lives beyond the mirror makes teasing, flickering appearances but never quite shows itself, never solidifies into something that can be looked at and not just glimpsedThe novel is a little melodramatic, probably purposefully as a parallel to ballet itself And the ending was perfect and sweet and sad and bitter yes, I wish I had hadtime in this absorbing world 232 pages are just not enough but I wouldn t have changed those last couple of paragraphs.Now that I m in love with Maggie Shipstead, I m off to go read Seating Arrangements as soon as possible Astonish me Yeah, astonishingly dull I m giving this a two, but please note, it is a very weak two, very weak.There is no tension to this book whatsoever.A brief synopsis Watch out because there are spoilers A ballerina in the corps de ballet gets pregnant by the premiere dancer, a Russian whom she helped defect, then has sex with her life long male friend who loves her and so doing tricks him into marrying her view spoiler Seventeen years down the boring line the Russian learns he has a Astonish me Yeah, astonishingly dull I m giving this a two, but please note, it is a very weak two, very weak.There is no tension to this book whatsoever.A brief synopsis Watch out because there are spoilers A ballerina in the corps de ballet gets pregnant by the premiere dancer, a Russian whom she helped defect, then has sex with her life long male friend who loves her and so doing tricks him into marrying her view spoiler Seventeen years down the boring line the Russian learns he has a son, followed by the son and husband learning of the woman s trickery lies The son grows up to be a fabulous dancer and while taking a break from his ex girlfriend, she then hooks up with, marries and gets pregnant by the Russian defector whom the son s mother helped defect and kept the son a secret all these years Then the Russian makes up a ballet about the whole story The End hide spoiler This whole thing is a badly done soap opera and the saddest thing I can say about that is that most soap operas that you get involved in you actually care about the people And here, I simply didn t.The book is written mostly as vignettes, little pieces of the lives here and there Most scenes end with no resolution of the action.I think you would only find this book even mildly interesting if you are very knowledgeable about ballet If you don t know the difference between a pli and a pirouette or a relev from a rond de jambe or the difference between an arabesque and an attitude, this likely isn t the book for you I do know those terms and I am familiar with ballet, I Love ballet but there is just nothing here as far as a plot I kept waiting for the story to pull me in Even when everyone learns the secret it is merely meh.For me personally, this was a pointless waste of my time This is a graceful novel about professional ballet dancers and the passionate lives they lead It s also about what happens to dancers when they can t dance any how do you create a new identity if all you ve ever known is ballet We first meet Joan in the 1970s, an American who is in love with Arslan, a Russian dancer who defected to the States But Arslan has left Joan and is going to marry another woman With a broken heart, Joan quits ballet and starts a relationship with a longtime frien This is a graceful novel about professional ballet dancers and the passionate lives they lead It s also about what happens to dancers when they can t dance any how do you create a new identity if all you ve ever known is ballet We first meet Joan in the 1970s, an American who is in love with Arslan, a Russian dancer who defected to the States But Arslan has left Joan and is going to marry another woman With a broken heart, Joan quits ballet and starts a relationship with a longtime friend, which feels safer Years later, Joan s life becomes entangled with ballet again when her son, Harry, shows a talent for it The novel jumps back and forth between the 1990s and the 1970s, and through flashbacks we see the day that Joan first met Arslan, and the day Arslan defected, and the day Harry started dancing, and many other days It took a few chapters before I was fully engaged in the story, but I eventually connectedwith Joan s character and situation, and I m glad I finished the book The ending of the story is telegraphed back at the beginning, and reminds the reader just how passionate dancers can be in their art and in their lives.I d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys stories from the world of ballet My rating 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars This book is, without a doubt, beautifully written I also loooove me a book about the intense world of ballet Shipstead inhabits her characters completely and really builds the world of this novel as her characters live it There is a problem of proportion in this novel It feels 200 pages too short The structure is such that at times, you wonder why the abrupt shift from one character s POV to another The big secret that is not really a secret, is revealed to the only people who don t kno This book is, without a doubt, beautifully written I also loooove me a book about the intense world of ballet Shipstead inhabits her characters completely and really builds the world of this novel as her characters live it There is a problem of proportion in this novel It feels 200 pages too short The structure is such that at times, you wonder why the abrupt shift from one character s POV to another The big secret that is not really a secret, is revealed to the only people who don t know it, in a really bizarre way that makes absolutely no sense see 200 pages too short An then the ending is ludicrous It just doesn t make sense And it s a shame because so much about this book is outstanding Elaine and her relationhship with Mr K., Joan and her relationship with Jacob, how Harry grows into young manhood, how Chloe comes into her own I spent ALL NIGHT thinking about these people after I finished the book so I know there is something here I Just wanted so muchfrom this book and for these fascinating characters Astonish me charts the lives of two generations of ballet dancers The main character Joan isn t especially gifted Her claim to fame is she helps a brilliant Russian dancer defect and has an affair with him However, he soon moves on to pastures new and Joan compromises by marrying the childhood friend who has always loved her and leaves the ballet company A son is born to whom she imparts her love of ballet and trains The son is in love with the girl next door who is also training to be a da Astonish me charts the lives of two generations of ballet dancers The main character Joan isn t especially gifted Her claim to fame is she helps a brilliant Russian dancer defect and has an affair with him However, he soon moves on to pastures new and Joan compromises by marrying the childhood friend who has always loved her and leaves the ballet company A son is born to whom she imparts her love of ballet and trains The son is in love with the girl next door who is also training to be a dancer So there s a lot of unrequited love in this novel But what came acrossstrongly was how vain everyone in this book is I often felt vanity was the theme of this novel but the author somehow missed it It was thereby accident than design Probably there s no pursuitnarcissistic than dancing It involves the constant appraisal of oneself in a mirror What was surprising and might have been clever had the author hadcommand of it was that the non dancers were no less vain, especially the men I kept feeling an opportunity was missed Instead the narrative concentratedon domestic drama and chick litty love triangles The writing and pacing too was uneven inspired passages often juxtaposed with lazy unnecessary sections It was okay but probably one of those novels I ll have little memory of six months down the line 4 STARSHow strange it was that a dream, once realized, could quickly turn mundane Not everyone can appreciate ballet, much less be a fan of it I certainly am not I find the discipline and the artistic egos of those who willingly subject themselves through physical and mental torture to achieve technical perfectionintriguing than the actual performance People whose sole point of validation and happiness are the appreciation of others With enough fervour to completely shun complex ca4 STARSHow strange it was that a dream, once realized, could quickly turn mundane Not everyone can appreciate ballet, much less be a fan of it I certainly am not I find the discipline and the artistic egos of those who willingly subject themselves through physical and mental torture to achieve technical perfectionintriguing than the actual performance People whose sole point of validation and happiness are the appreciation of others With enough fervour to completely shun complex carbohydrates for extension, form and turnout I mean, ofcourse I wanna know about these crazy and gorgeous people.In the world of dancers, ballerinas are rockstars ethereal and breathtaking in their narcissismIn ballet, she went on, when something s really beautiful, I feel a lot, but not happy or sad, really Just a feeling With goose bumps I like that After a moment, she sighed and rolled onto her stomach, resting her forehead on her arms If I can t dance, I know I won t die, but it feels like I will In 1973, a mediocre ballerina from New York meets and falls in love with famed Russian dancer Arslan Ruskov Joan s tumultuous affair with Arslan begins when he entails her help in his defection to the United States, and ends when the discrepancy in their talents and futures in ballet became too evident to ignore She eventually marries her childhood sweetheart Jacob Bintz and retires to California where they raise together their son, Harry, while she deals with the longing for the extraordinary world that she left behind by teaching ballet Here she lives with the tedium of a reality still stained by a past that she simultaneously yearns and evades envious and catty neighbours, starry eyed little girls who want to be like her and a son who turns out to be a ballet prodigy himself Unavoidably, Joan s present and past draws closer and closer, with secrets long buried threatening to be unearthed and destroy the happiness she has settled for What I liked most about Astonish Me was that while it already chose a topic that was fascinating to me i.e professional ballet in the shadows of the Cold War , it still went above and beyond what I expected The story is divided into five parts, spanning from 1973 to 2002 told in a non linear manner, focusing instead on the evolution of no less than six characters, both immersed and outside of that remarkable environment Do not look for fancy twists and heart stopping reveals in this one, it makes no claims to be a mystery Whatever unspoken detail this may have harboured from the beginning, it never felt like it was belittling my intelligence by claiming it as the point of the story You are EXPECTED to know things This instead focuses on an exhaustive study ofor less six individuals tied together by their wants, their failures, their compromises and where that all leads them to.And it was glorious.It s quite tedious to detail the merits of each character but between Joan and Harry s story lines, the people they evolve and transition with were perfectly layered against each other The delivery was indeed effortlessly elegant Sometimes literary fiction and character studies can get too ostentatious, but here the prose had an approachable feel, one that you can get lost in, without feeling like finishing a chapter is pulling teeth It was as luxuriant as it was enjoyable with wit and humour coming unexpectedlyHe defends his son and wife fiercely, and when she once asked Harry why he couldn t have a hobby that wasn t for queers, Jacob had taken her outside and told her she had a choice between being banned from seeing her grandson or shutting up Still, he has wondered wonders everyday if Harry is gay All he knows for sure is that his son envies another man s ballon Oh Jacob, you and your unassuming milquetoast sweetness, dad jokes and friend zone worthiness There are books that makes you feel a little cheap after reading them, this had a plush quality that you just want to wrap around yourself Except maybe Chloe and Arslan s idea of a revolutionary ballet towards the end That felt like an overwrought cliche, something right out of the pages of Center Stage s script Or perhaps its just that I really hated Arslan, who was really an unapologetic gonad all throughout but nevertheless did standout in a cast that was already impressive.I m actually a little disappointed by the lack of an author s note at the end because I was quite curious about the writing and research process of this book Of how much of Arslan Ruskov was inspired by Mikhail Baryshnikov who also defected into the US through Canada with the help of an American woman and so on But that aside, Astonish Me was, indeed, quite astonishing Sorry, I just had to ARC provided by the Random House Knopf Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may not appear in the final edition.Also on BookLIkes Full immersion into the world of a professional ballet and the dancers, their world, their hopes and dreams The struggle to be better, jump higher, despite injuries and bleeding feet, to be noticed Yet this story is so muchWhat happens to the dancers when they cannot dance How do they make a new life for themselves Joan is one such dancer, who falls in love with another dancer, who does not stay Her story and her sons, who becomes a ballet prodigy himself Well written with a quiet w Full immersion into the world of a professional ballet and the dancers, their world, their hopes and dreams The struggle to be better, jump higher, despite injuries and bleeding feet, to be noticed Yet this story is so muchWhat happens to the dancers when they cannot dance How do they make a new life for themselves Joan is one such dancer, who falls in love with another dancer, who does not stay Her story and her sons, who becomes a ballet prodigy himself Well written with a quiet wisdom, this is an enthralling read about families, secrets and sacrifice.It is based on some actual well known dancers, and it was easy for me to guess who was represented by whom in this novel Loved every minute of this book It s hard to imagine that Maggie Shipstead at 30 years old, could write such a wise and thoughtful book Her writing is packed with insightful comments about each of the characters and their reactions as they make their way through the maze of ballet at the highest level, their relationships with the masters, their lack of confidence as they struggle to find their niche, their diets of cigarettes and coke, their huge sacrifices to get there, etc The book jumps around from the early 70s to 2002 It s hard to imagine that Maggie Shipstead at 30 years old, could write such a wise and thoughtful book Her writing is packed with insightful comments about each of the characters and their reactions as they make their way through the maze of ballet at the highest level, their relationships with the masters, their lack of confidence as they struggle to find their niche, their diets of cigarettes and coke, their huge sacrifices to get there, etc The book jumps around from the early 70s to 2002 and centers around a Russian who defects, a beautiful young dancer who wants to be with him, her sacrifice to have a child and raise him, her safe second choice husband, and all of the dicey complicated relationships in between Much of it is told in present tense in each era, which I found very effective, up close and personal I found the story very realistic and satisfying I think this author is here to stay