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Vaslav - Arthur Japin [Mar. 23rd, 2012|10:01 pm]


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Title: Vaslav
Author: Arthur Japin
Including: The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsksi
Genre: Novel, diary, biography
Publisher: Arbeiderspers, 2010
Pages: Hardcover novel, 374; Paperback diary, 224
Language: Dutch
Rating: 8/10
Summary: Inspired by the diary of ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinskiby, this is the fictionalized story of his life, told from three points of view. His wife, his manager (and ex-lover) and his manservant tell what happened leading up to Vaslav's final performance in 1917, when he stopped in mid dance and said he had danced enough. After that Vaslav never danced or spoke again until his death in 1950.

Arthur Japin wrote more novels based on the real lives of forgotten people, (The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi / De Zwarte Met Het Witte Hart) and I've devoured them all, but this was the first time I was also able to read an important part of his source material. That was a treat, because even though Japin paints a pretty extensive portrait of Vaslav through the people who were close to him, obviously Japin had to use his imagination to fill in blanks and create conversations, so it's still a (partly made up) outsider's point of view, twice removed.

The book begins with the point of view of the manservant, who respected Vaslav immensely and this immediately sets the tone for the rest of the story. It made me pick the side of Vaslav in every discussion in the part that is told by his wife, who's mostly angry and dissapointed in Vaslav and desperate for him to act normal again. She accuses manager Sergej of trying to corrupt Vaslav, but of course Sergej tells a different story.

It was a revelation to be able to read the actual diary of Vaslav afterwards and see a glimpse of the man himself. I also got a bit of insight in how Japin build his novel. Vaslav's wife Romola collected the original notebooks and added a foreword to the diary in 1963, so I was also able to read her voice directly. I realized that my opinion on her was already coloured by the novel.

The diary is not a comforting read; it's clearly written by a man who's losing his mind, which also makes Vaslav's account of reality not completely reliable. It did make me understand the difficult position of his wife better. I was most interested in what Vaslav had to say about his relationship with his (former) manager and lover Sergej Diaghilev. As most of his memories are tainted by confusion and anger (and since his wife supervised publication of the diary), I'm not sure if I got a clear picture.

All in all it is a rather bleak story. It was really heartbreaking to see someone slowly slipping away in his own world.