16-year-old Tatiana is a brilliant ballerina with big dreams for herself and her communist country of Russia. Dancing in her head amongst her dreams of traveling the world with the Kirov Ballet are her hopes for the day her beloved country will see freedom and democracy. When she finds herself caught up in the fight for a democratic nation, she is forced to choose between following her dreams of traveling worldwide with the ballet corps though it means consistently returning to a country that may never see freedom or a day without poverty; or defecting to France, a land that is free and wealthy, and in which she could make a great living as a ballerina with the Paris ballet corps.
Set in Leningrad against the backdrop of 1991 communist Russia, Gloria Whelan’s award-winning novel The Turning is a lesson in loyalty, as well as the harsh realities of communism. Whelan opens the novel with a conversation between Tatiana and her friend, Vera, as they are warming up before their ballet class begins. The class had been told that several of them would be chosen to tour Paris with the ballet troupe in the following months. That seed grew into a full-fledged plan for Vera, who fantasized of living lavishly in Paris after defecting from the Russian troupe – Tatiana was merely along for the ride. The closer the tour drew, the more anxious Tatiana and Vera were to get out of communist Russia into a land that was not only free, but not impoverished. Vera was ready to drop everything and run to Paris as soon as she could. Tatiana, on the other hand, had serious decisions to make.
Sasha, a young man to whom Tatiana had been a friend for several years, would not be traveling to Paris. Tatiana had family and friends in Russia whom she loved. She was not sure that she was ready to give everything up to live even in a free country. As her grandfather got more involved in opposing the communist movement, though, Tatiana wanted nothing more than to run far away from the mixed up politics of communist Russia.
Being the greatest dancer in the ballet troupe, Tatiana made it into the tour to Paris. The first stop on the tour was Moscow, where they would board a plane for Paris. Before she had left her hometown of Leningrad, Tatiana was given a package from her grandfather to take to the parliament building in Moscow. If caught, Tatiana would be, at the very least, imprisoned, her family exiled from Russia. Tatiana made it safely into the parliamentary office of the Leningrad official to whom the package was addressed when a coup began to break out around the building. She was forced to stay in the building – for safety’s sake – until everything had subsided and the sounds of freedom rang out throughout Russia.
Tatiana’s final decision was to, after her time in Paris, return to Russia to be with her family, her beloved Sasha, and her ballet corps. Vera was forced to defect to South America with her family, as her father was selling illegal weapons to terrorists in the black market – now outlawed under the new democratic rule.
This book is a great aid to a teaching on Communism or global studies, in that it teaches about recent Russian history, and the oppressing effects of Communism within a nation. Because it is a story from a ballerina’s perspective, it is more likely to catch the interest of young girls than of young boys. Therefore, I would probably not use it as a central reading tool. If I were to assign outside reading, however, I would definitely suggest this book to my classroom. - KD