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Written By Danielle Steel, 1999, Delacorte Press
I came upon this book one day while rifling through my mother’s yawn-inducing adult paperbacks, due to a lack of recent visits to the library. They were the kind of books that are thick, fine print, and usually about some unhappy beautiful heroine who finds true love through a turbulent 700 pages. Then I came across Granny Dan. It was hardcover, a mere 223 pages, and had no close-up shot of a gun, or broken glass, or some other imagery in that vein. So, I did the obvious thing, I opened it up and began to read.
Granny Dan was a magical grandmother, who enjoyed roller skating in her kitchen, singing to her family in Russian, and mostly just loving her family in her own little ways. But when she passed away, no one knew anything about her past, which she’d spoken little of. When cleaning out her house after her death, her granddaughter is sent a small brown box, containing all the secrets of Granny Dan’s life, secrets just bursting to be understood. The box contained very few things, a pair of satin toe ballet shoes, a gold locket, and letters tied together. Granny Dan suddenly becomes more than just an endearing grandmother, she becomes Danina Petroskova, the great ballerina.
Learning more of Danina’s past, her granddaughter slowly begins to unravel the mystery surrounding her life.
As a young girl, Danina’s father and brothers gave her up to a ballet school in St. Petersburg, Russia, because so many men would not know how to raise the motherless girl. For years, Danina devoted her life to ballet, she did not know the outside world. While other girls fell in love and began to ruin their focus for training, Danina only ate, slept, and danced, it was a monastic life, enduring gruelling hours of training with her teacher, Madame Markova. By the age of seventeen, Danina was a prima, and from her performances, she was soon recognized by the Czar and Czarina, members of the royal family. As time went on, she became a favourite of the Imperial family, especially the sickly Czarevitch, Alexei. (The Czar is basically the equivalent of the king, the Czarina, the queen, and the Czarevitch, the prince. Alexei’s family, the Imperial family, were real)
Many shattering events occur to Danina, from losing precious brothers to war, to falling in love with Alexei’s (the Czarevitch) doctor, Nikolai Obrajensky.
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The early 1900s were turbulent times for Russia. The revolution truly did happen, and not only did it shatter Danina’s life, but the lives of countless others. The Imperial family were also all executed after living under house arrest in Tsarskoe Selo.
As for the other important people in Danina’s life, all eventually disappeared from her life. Her dance teacher, Madame Markova, died two years after Danina left for America from pneumonia, her father and remaining brother were killed at the end of the war, and her love, Nikolai, was executed along with the Imperial family. Danina eventually marries Nikolai’s cousin, a while after hearing of Nikolai’s death.
This novel truly struck a chord with me, even though the granddaughter reciting the story was a minor character, her point of view was very important to me, and very relatable. By reading her comments, I considered how well I knew my grandparents, and how many times I’d talked about their past with them. I’d talked to a few of them more than others, but it was something I’d never thought much about.
I felt Granny Dan was a novel that really stressed the importance of history, and the wonder at finding out even just a little about one who has come before you. Granny Dan was wonderfully written, with vivid and emotional characters, a novel I’d recommend to most people, especially if like me, you love reading about history. It has that little dash of history and plenty of drama, which flow well in this novel, truly going hand in hand. Slightly for a bit of a more mature or female audience, but very easy to comprehend, altogether, a very charming book.