“I absolutely adored The Chosen Maiden! Such masterful, sensitive writing, I was immersed from the first page to the last. Eva Stachniak illuminates those historic pathways, blazed at such personal cost, by the ‘dance-greats.’ Most of all, I loved the humanizing of these characters—Bronia, Vaslav, Sergei Diaghilev—who imprinted their genius on our culture, whose names are so familiar, but whose origins and inner lives were not—until now.” —
Veronica Tennant, author of On Stage, Please, Filmmaker, Prima Ballerina
Eva Stachniak: ‘We live in a country that embodies the essence of the 21st century’
The Chosen Maiden was born out of my fascination with Ballets Russes, a Russian dance company which, in the summer of 1909, took Paris by storm, and fundamentally transformed Western notions of modern art. I wrote it because, after over 30 years in Canada, I’m still exploring the encounters between East and West, their exhilarating possibilities and illuminating setbacks. My heroine, Bronislava (Bronia) Nijinska, the intended Chosen Maiden from the 1913 production of TheRite of Spring choreographed by her famous brother Vaslav, was a brilliant dancer and a ground-breaking choreographer. The tantalizing relationship between Bronia and Vaslav is one of the novel’s main themes. Another is a life fuelled by a passion for art and lived in between cultures, languages and ideologies, against the backdrop of bloody political upheavals – two world wars and the Russian Revolution. With the Nijinsky men gone – by choice or tragic fate – it’s the women who pick up the pieces. For me this makes The Chosen Maiden both personal and universal. Personal for it evokes the spirit of the Polish women who raised me, brave and nurturing, determined to wrench the slightest sliver of happiness from the hardest of times. Universal, for I see the very same spirit anywhere where women know that the survival of their families depends on them. MORE
Eva Stachniak on blacklisted words and the dreams of the exiled
Whether she’s re-imagining the rise of Catherine the Great or – in her latest novel, The Chosen Maiden – a gifted Russian ballet dancer, historical novelist Eva Stachniak is drawn to visionary women and how they challenge the status quo.
… Drawing on her thorough research into Bronia’s archives, the author has teased out revealing insights into the art of the dance, and she writes skillfully about the emotional truths that arose from Bronia’s ambitions, family relations, and deep anxieties. Dance fans will welcome this graceful and entrancing foray into the recent past.
My last address? For this ship may well become my coffin, sinking here, somewhere between Europe and America, as did SS Athenia on her way to Montreal last month. Now we, too, are a tiny speck on the grey waters of the Atlantic. If we make it, New York will greet us with its skyscrapers, those towering giant lizards, scaly and beautiful. And a new life that might not be that new after all. We make vows in moments of danger then slip back into old habits.
My London contract was cancelled the day Britain declared war on Germany. With all the theatres closed and the clock ticking on our British visas, I signed with Wassily de Basil’s company for their Australian tour. If we do go to Australia, that is. We make plans, my mother would remind me, and God laughs.
If the protracted visa interview at the American embassy in London was any indication, I’ll have to steel myself for questions, account for the contradictions of history. My imperial Russian passport declares that Бронисла́ва Фоми́нична Нижи́нская—Bronislava Fominitchna Nizhinskaya—was born in Minsk, in 1891. My Polish passport insists that Bronisława Niżyńska is a Polish citizen, born in Warsaw in 1890. My Nansen passport argues that I am stateless. Mercifully they all agree that my face is oblong, my complexion fair and my hair blond, although my eyes are described variously as green or blue.
Mine, I will defend myself, is not a simple story.
Both The Winter Palace and Empress of the Night have an audiobook version. In the US both are read by an award winning Hollywood actress Beata Poźniak whose voice and passion for storytelling makes listening to both novels a great pleasure.
The novel’s complex structure and huge cast of characters called for a narrator with an impressive range, and Pozniak certainly delivered. Her wonderfully expressive voice and authentic Eastern European accent were the perfect complement to the psychologically intense novel.
Poźniak’s smoke -and -velvet voice somehow manages to perfectly capture the lushness and richly atmospheric quality of Stachniak’s vivid prose. The nineteen hours of narration become a thrilling journey to an exotic place and time.
To listen to excerpts from both novels please go to:
Empress of the Night is my second novel of Catherine the Great. The first one, The Winter Palace told Catherine’s story from the point of view of a place spy. Empress of the Night, written in close third person (which means that the reader sees the world through the eyes of the novel’s principal character) lets the Empress of Russia herself tell her own story.
Here are some questions to stimulate a discussion on the novel:
Does a woman ruler face different challenges than a man? What are they?