Picks and Pans Review: Zoya

UPDATED 07/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Danielle Steel

It is the misguided reader who skips a single page of this novel. This warning has a lot less to do with the quality of the writing than with the thickness of the action. To be anything short of raptly attentive is to risk missing a death, a birth, a love affair, a marriage. Zoya is 17, a beautiful, mischievous Russian countess, cousin to Tsar Nicholas. But the Russian Revolution, which has just begun as the novel opens, changes everything. Zoya's beloved father and brother are killed, her mother commits suicide, and Zoya herself flees with her grandmother Evgenia, ending up in Paris. There she joins the Ballet Russe and meets Captain Clayton Andrews, "a tall, attractive man with gray hair and brilliant blue eyes," with whom (of course) she falls madly in love. Zoya, like all Steel heroines, leads a full life. She loses her parents and brother and grandmother, almost loses her children to a tenement fire, is impoverished by the crash of '29, buries two husbands and a daughter, opens a wildly successful clothing store and has a perfume named after her. Steel is her own worst enemy. The novel is genuinely touching as Zoya and her frail but indomitable grandmother cope with grievously reduced circumstances in Paris. It is difficult to remain unaffected by the image of Evgenia selling off family treasures to pay the rent, difficult not to share Zoya's pain when she learns that her Romanov cousins were murdered by the Bolsheviks. But by the end of the novel, the piling on of tragedy becomes almost comical. A reader learns not to grow fond of characters; they're not likely to last out the chapter. Steel also acts as if anything said once is worth saying at least a second time. The reader is reminded again and again of Zoya's red hair and emerald eyes and translucent skin. "The Ballet Russe was the happiest thing in her life," Steel writes at one point. Three pages later: "Dancing with the Ballet Russe made her feel alive again." And if Steel can't help repeating herself, neither can she resist dropping names. On a single page, one hears about Cole Porter, Condé Nast, Calvin Coolidge, the Roosevelts, the Whitneys and Tallulah Bankhead, who "scolded Zoya more than once, telling her that she didn't use enough lip rouge." Yes, and while it's probably not something Tallulah would have said, Danielle doesn't use enough restraint. (Delacorte; $21.95)

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