by Colum McCann

Paperback(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250051790
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 06/02/2015
Series: Picador Modern Classics Series
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 511,288
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Colum McCann is the author of books including This Side of Brightness, Zoli, Songdogs and Let the Great World Spin. He has received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, and was named the first winner of the Grace Kelly Memorial Foundation Award and the Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

From Dancer:

Just when we all thought they were finished, a small blond boy stepped out of the line. He extended his legs, placed his hands firmly on his hips and hitched his thumbs at his back. He bent his neck slightly forward, stretched his elbows out and began. The soldiers in their beds propped themselves up. The boy went to the floor for a squatting dance. We all stood silently watching. The boy grinned. Some soldiers began clapping in rhythm but, just as the dance was about to end, the boy almost fell. His hand slapped the floor and broke the impact. For a moment he looked as if he was about to cry, but he didn't, he was up once more, his blond hair flopping over his eyes.

When he finished the ward was full of applause. Someone offered the boy a cube of sugar. He blushed and slipped it into the top of his sock and then he stood around with his hands in his pockets, rolling his shoulders from side to side.

Reading Group Guide

A Russian peasant who became an international legend, a Cold War exile who inspired millions, an artist whose name stood for genius, sex, and excess-the magnificence of Rudolf Nureyev's life and work are known, but now Colum McCann, in his most daring novel yet, reinvents this erotically charged figure through the light he cast on those who knew him.

Taking his inspiration from the biographical facts, McCann tells the story through a chorus of voices: there is Anna Vasileva, Rudi's first ballet teacher, who rescues her protégé from the stunted life of his town; Yulia, whose sexual and artistic ambitions are thwarted by her Soviet-sanctioned marriage; and Victor, the Venezuelan hustler, who reveals the lurid underside of the gay celebrity set. Spanning four decades and many worlds, from the horrors of Stalingrad to the wild abandon of New York in the eighties, Dancer is peopled by a large cast of characters, obscure and famous: doormen and shoemakers, Margot Fonteyn and John Lennon. And at the heart of the spectacle stands the artist himself, willful, lustful, and driven by a never-tobe-met need for perfection.

In ecstatic prose, McCann evokes the distinct consciousness of the man and the glittering reflection of the myth. The result is a monumental story of love, art, and exile.

1. The novel is told from a variety of viewpoints, from close first-person testimony to diary entries, from the documentary-like lens of the opening pages to the second-person imprecations of Nureyev's time in Leningrad to the intimate third-person tales of street hustler Victor Pareci or cobbler Tom Ashworth. Why do you think the story of Rudolph Nureyev is told by so many people other than Rudolph Nureyev? Which voices feel more fully-realized to you than others, and why?

2. The objects thrown on stage following Nureyev's performance; the details of the Russian soldiers marching in the snow; Nureyev's various purchases; the gifts he brings back to his family and friends in the U.S.S.R.; the items of his life being auctioned off. What is the significance of lists in the novel?

3. What is the use and larger implications of the term "former history" at the bottom of page 75.

4. Discuss the novel's intermittent use of the second-person voice. What is implicit in its direction and command? What sort of commentary does it indirectly offer on the ideas of Celebrity or History?

5. The physicality of dance is often scrupulously, even tenaciously rendered throughout the novel. In addition, great care is given to the wording invoked in describing dance, from precise craft and medical terminology to the sound of turning joints or the rendered power of eye-contact. On page 91, a narrator turns intentionally vague when she says that Nureyev "was using something beyond his body." What does such a phrase say about Nureyev as an artist? What does it say about Yulia as an observer?

6. For a book so concerned with the movement of history and personal history, there are also intense moments of stop-time. Think of Rudi pausing in mid-air. Think of the phrase uttered on the top of page 149: "It's our function in life to make moments durable." Is this preservation of beauty, this preservation of the immediate the purpose of Art? What exactly is preserved by creating beauty, and furthermore, is history then a record of such preservation?

7. "Poverty lust sickness envy and hope, he said again. It has survived them all." This is said of the last remaining piece of family china, a saucer dish, given to Yulia by her dying father. How is the saucer a symbol for other things in Dancer?

8. The only portions of the novel narrated by Nureyev are told in diary-like entries, and while the entries can be fairly lengthy and/or specific, none of them express how the man thinks or feels. Why do you think we are held at a remove from Nureyev, both in his own portion and by dint through all the other portions of the novel?

9. Explain the role of Victor Pareci's section in the larger scheme of the book; also, in Nureyev's life. Think of the comparison made between Victor and Rudi on page 235, the two men being the edge of the coin.

10. How is violence a form of affection in the novel? Are the motivations to harm the same as those to love?

11. Dancer is a novel of communication. The communication of art, performance, feeling. Likewise, it's a novel of communication communicated to the reader by voices. What does one learn from Nureyev's life by looking at it through the lens of the communicated? How does it alter or expand one's notion of novelwriting. What does it say about the art of storytelling? Think back to the story of the maimed soldier told in the middle of page 135, or the brief metaphor of the chess game used in the middle of page 327.

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Dancer 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Colum McCann does an incredible job of taking perception from various characters in Rudolf's life, adding historical facts, mixing in some colorful flair, and creating a story that is difficult if not impossible to stop reading. I read non-stop and finished in one day, lent my book out, and am considering purchasing another because I didn't get it back. It is definitely a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Moira Driscoll and Mark Honan are amazing in this book! Truly talented people! I love them!
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 2 days ago
All of a sudden, about an hour into this novel, I realized the author was setting Rudolf Nureyev up as the protagonaist. The novel is fictional, and is really more about the ripples experienced by the people in his life, in the life of a famous person. In the novel, Margot Fonteyn (Nureyev's partner for many years) says that the dancer's life is magnificently full, and desperately empty at the same time. That statement really sums up the gist of the story. Passion and tragedy walk hand in hand throughout his life. I have gathered that from some biographies of famous individuals, particularly "Long Walk To Freedom" by Nelsom Mandela. It seems that fame requires adjustment to a level of imbalance in life which, from the outside looking in, seems exquisitely painful. Very good book!
abandoned on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Like trying to capture smoke with your hands... How do you define an enigma like Nureyev? McCann manages to gift us with gorgeous fragment's of the Dancer's personlity, the times in which he lived & the people in his life. Loved this book & looking forward to reading others written by Mr. McCann.
IDF More than 1 year ago
It's not just about a great dancer his rise to fame, and his living but also about Russia just before and after WWII. The writing is good too!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In this novel we see what a talented, tortured, arrogant, manic person Nureyev was. Fascinating details about Soviet Russia and the world of ballet.
karatepen More than 1 year ago
This is an outrageous book written in rapture.The story is developed beautifully .I read each page to see what was next and re read that page to enjoy the magnificence of the writing and the surprise of McCann's flight.Very entertaining.A GREAT BOOK !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely riveting book. The author's unique style plays a part in this - he switches point of view, tense, and prose style in rapid succession throughout the story. Nureyev's dancing was brilliant and compulsive - he danced nearly to the end of his life even when he was in serious pain. His charisma and volatility are magnificently portrayed in this fictionalized biography (sometimes autobiography) which begins in the horrendous conditions of Russia's WWII battlefields and ends with his reunion with the family he had not seen in decades. I had read an excellent biography of Nureyev about two years ago, and recognized some of the people in his inner circle, but some readers may be frustrated by the first-name-only identity of people dropped into the story throughout the book. Nevertheless, the story has a magnetic pull - I couldn't resist it.
BalletomaneEO More than 1 year ago
Slunderous rubbish! Malicious insult to a great artist who is no longer here to defend himself.