Author: Evan Fallenberg
Genre: Fiction (Israeli / Contemporary / Historical - WWII)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (6/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked immensely. Intensely.
Did I finish?: YES, in less than one day - Monday morning to Monday night.
One-sentence summary: Teo, an eighty-five year old ballet dancer, is inspired to find passion - and some lost memories of his youth - upon meeting a lovely 40-year waitress in Tel Aviv.
Reading Challenges: Eastern European, Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Yes - it has this bittersweet feel that is very reminiscent of the novel's tone and matches one of the key settings of the story.
I'm reminded of...: Michael Ondaatje
First line: He said, "Where's Rona."
Do... I think this book would be perfect for book groups?: YES. It's slim and a quick, beautiful read, but covers great topics like obsession versus passion, commitment to art, and the thin line between public/private life.
Did... I desperately want to see a ballet after reading this?: YES. Fallenberg's descriptions of dance and the way bodies move were just marvelous.
Why did I get this book?: The moment I saw 'eighty-five year old retired ballet dancer', I was all over it. I love ballet and the set up of this late-in-life romance intrigued me.
Review: As I said in my Teaser, this novel was effortless to read, and immensely enjoyable. The writing was lovely -- a little lyrical, a little poetic -- and the plot simple but compelling.
The story revolves around Teo, the aforementioned 85-year old retired ballet dancer, and Vivi, a 40-ish waitress. They meet at the coffee shop where Vivi works and strike up an unlikely friendship. This friendship provokes conversations about art, obsession, and passion, themes which weave through the rest of the story, as we learn about Vivi's romantic past and Teo's experience in Berlin during World War II.
The romance was really secondary to Teo's reminiscences, which was fine because Teo's back story is fascinating. A young Polish Jew dancing with a Danish ballet company, he and his fellow dancers are invited to perform in Berlin in 1939. It's an opportunity of a life time -- so despite protests from friends in Denmark, he goes. I don't want to give too much more away as my enjoyment came from not really knowing what to expect as the story unfolded. But I was surprised, moved, horrified, and relieved, captivated by Teo and Vivi, eager to see how their relationship would develop. The lyricism of Fallenberg's writing kept the sad parts from being too misery-inducing and made the moments of joy and happiness vibrate.
My one complaint is I found the end a tiny bit clunky but the story closed in a very neat and ultimately satisfying way, and it didn't detract from my overall enthusiasm for this book. Highly recommended -- would be an effortless and fascinating weekend read.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of When We Danced on Water to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment and an email address to enter. Open to US/CA readers, closes 6/3.