Monday, 23 March 2015

Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper By Elizabeth Kiem, reviewed by Julia Jones

I was caught up by this novel from the first pages and read it with absorption in a single sitting. The young heroine, Lana Dukovskaya, is a third generation ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet but the experiences of her mother and grandmother are shrouded and lost. Her grandmother's name, we discover, has been erased from the records and her mother (heroine of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy) is a troubled secretive figure. Lana challenges the conventional notion of a ballerina: she has close cropped hair, loves high speed motor bikes and most of all she wants to experiment with the repertoire.
Lana is rebellious, angry and too well aware of the situation of the Bolshoi in the new Russia of oligarchs and corruption: "The Bolshoi was once our crown Jewel. Now it's a blood diamond." Elizabeth Kiem, the author, lived in Russia for four years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the pleasures of Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper is the way she allows Lana's patchy, gradual discovery of of her mother and grandmother's histories to be a gradual discovery of three generations of Russian history. This is not obtrusive – the exciting story-line remains central – but it's there and it's appropriate for the Young Adult audience for whom this book is written as well as for adults, like me, who will also enjoy this book.
As readers we are with Lana. Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper is written in the first person and the present tense. We travel with Lana from Moscow to New York via windowless practice rooms, rich men's mansions and cheap hotels. The place where Lana seems most truly herself is on stage. The central motif of the story is the solo role as The Chosen One, performing the Danse Sacrale in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. I rarely go to the ballet these days but Kiem convinced me effortlessly of the feelings and physical exertions of the dancer as well the emotions and ambitions – the politics in fact – that might surround such a pivotal role. These are the moments that will remain in my mind from this exciting, accessible thriller. 
My review of the first volume Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy has already appeared on this site. I do hope there'll be more from Elizabeth Kiem. Both novels are published by Soho Teens.