A wonderfully enthralling first novel from writer-historian Ignatieff (The Russian Album, 1987, etc.)--unabashedly unpretentious but satisfyingly literate and informative. Asya is one of those remarkable women who somehow survive countless traumas with high spirits and innocence intact. Born in 1900 to a wealthy noble Russian family, Asya as a small child had tried to cross an ice-bound river. Just before she fell through the ice, she had seen a mysterious skater, all dressed in white, coming toward her through the mist. Her survival is thought to be miraculous, but the ``shock of the river had frozen something inside her and in the future there would be moments when her actions would rise from a dark and unknowable region of herself. That was the price she paid for crossing the river. What she won was fearlessness.'' And it is this lack of fear--this refusal to mourn the past or dig beneath the surface--that shapes Asya's life. Her parents die; she trains as a nurse; the Revolution begins; and, fleeing from the advancing Reds, she meets Sergei, the great love of her life. Safe in Paris, she bears Sergei's child, then soon acquires a job and a circle of helpful admirers. In 1924, Sergei turns up; they marry, prosper, but when the invading Germans force Asya to flee, she learns some unpleasant truths about her friends. Treachery is everywhere, yet Asya survives, and in a final visit to Moscow in 1990, in search of Sergei--a man of secrets as well--she finally accepts what she has denied for so many years. A sufficiently complex plot, memorable characters, dramatic events, and vivid and various settings, together with a heroine worthy of them all: one of those rare books that will delight all those who enjoy a good story well told. A reading feast.