REVIEW: The Sugarless Plum by Zippora Karz
Dear Ms. Karz,
First of all, this is a great title! I didn’t grow up wishing to be a ballerina. In fact I never even took dance classes of any kind when I was growing up. And since, when I’m on the dance floor, I can only dream of being as graceful as a hippo on roller skates, it’s probably a good thing. I’m sure my efforts would have turned any dance teacher to serious drink. But I love to watch those who can dance do it and that goes double for ballet. You say that being a great ballerina is a mix of tough athleticism and effortless grace and I can believe it.
I also love seeing and reading about “behind the scenes” whether it’s ballet, bull riding or opera. So when I was looking around the eharlequin site a while ago, the title of your book grand jetéd out at me. But wait, it is about more than your life as a corps de ballet member, then soloist, at the NYCB. It’s about your diagnosis of diabetes and how you managed to not only live with the disease but continue dancing for years with it.
To say I’m awed with the effort and discipline it took to get you accepted into the School of American Ballet then become a member of the NYC Ballet is an understatement. The descriptions of taking early morning classes, followed by hours of rehearsals which were then usually topped off by an hour or three of performances, six days out of the week, are grueling just to read about. And then you also had to look pretty and peppy and floating like thistledown while doing it too. I’d like to see professional football or basketball players manage that!
Reading about your early struggles with controlling diabetes brings home the fact that the medical profession has made enormous strides in treating and living with the disease in only the past thirty years. I groaned at the bad advice you got over the years and marveled that you could keep up your dancing schedule while having insulin dependent diabetes and not taking any insulin. I sighed with relief when things finally turned around for you and I can totally understand the reluctance to believe the severity of the disease and how much effort it takes to live with it successfully. Major life changes are never easy even when you accept them and want to do them. Since unfortunately diabetes is on the rise, I appreciate the references and resources you list at the end of the book.
Most of all I’m impressed by your honesty in the telling of your story. Some parts aren’t flattering to you and others are difficult to read as you initially flounder with diabetes and your dancing suffers because of it. I can see the wisdom of years that are probably behind such stark willingness to show the good and the bad. I think the book can be read not only by aspiring dancers trying to learn what it takes to succeed but also by those initially overwhelmed by their diagnosis who need to see that it’s possible to cope with and incorporate it into their daily lives and keep going. My kitty was also pleased to see the role yours have taken in your life. Yeah, gotta get the kitty reference in there.
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I’d read about this book before it came out and then forgot about it. I’m glad you reminded me of it.
If you like reading behind the scenes of the dance world check out thewinger.com, started by another former NYCB dancer Kristin Sloan. There are contributors from all over the dance world (and some great photos from the Vail Festival).
I’m looking forward to this one. Finally, a ballet story written by someone who knows about ballet (it’s painful reading ballet stories written by those who have no experience of the closed world – just painful!).
Great review – you’ve reminded me I have to move this to the top of my TBR!
Thank you for this review. I, too, love “behind the scene” looks at different “worlds”–especially ballet. I was a figure skater, not a ballerina, but…I love ballet, and spent much of my childhood attending performances at NYCB. At any rate, this book has jumped right to the top of my TBR pile.
Also, to add a recommendation, if you’re interested in the history of ballet, “Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet” by Jennifer Homans is excellent. Also written by a former dancer.
Wow, that sounds fascinating. I’m not usually a fan of biography/memoir type books, but this is something I might enjoy.
@SHZ: This one is definitely ballet warts and all. Karz was in school then a young dancer during the last years that Balanchine was there so there’s a lot of info about that and the shake up after he died and Peter Martins took over. Also about dancing with injuries that would have me hobbling around.
@Rebecca LB: A neat fact is that Karz’s sister was also a dancer with her at NYCB for years before they both eventually retired.
@Chelsea: I’m a fan of good, informative books in this genre. I’m not so much of a fan of “I’m ghost writing some generalized pap just to get the money while I’m a star” biography/memoir books. Blech to those.
@Julia Broadbooks: Thanks for mentioning that website. I just took a quick look and there’s a ton of info there plus – as you said – photos!
I love ballet, and I can’t believe I haven’t heard about this book at all! I’m going to order a copy now. :)
Another balletomane here! Thanks for this review.
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit my favorite view-into-the-ballet-world book of all time is still Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing On My Grave. So scandalous, so trashy, so bleak. And yet, you watched her dance and it was almost impossible to believe all the other stuff was going on.
I will have to check out this book.
Adding to the wishlist, thanks. Is Harlequin nonfiction a fairly new thing?
@shel: It’s not a new thing but it’s definitely a red-headed stepchild. Another of their memoir books I can recommend is “Safe Passage” that I reviewed earlier. https://dearauthor.com/ebooks/review-safe-passage-by-ida-cook/
I’m so glad you posted this review–I had no idea this book existed and it’s right up my alley! I’m an ex-dancer myself and had a daughter at the School of American Ballet until recently–let’s just say, I’m relieved that she’s out of there. :o(
@Kristi: Speaking as someone whose children all have four feet and fur, I’m not sure how I’d feel, after reading this book, if I had a child at that school. Probably happy s/he is talented enough to get in but worried about what it would do in the long run.