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Literature / Flight of the Swan

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Flight of the Swan is a Historical Fiction novel by Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferré. Originally published in 2001, it tells the story of world-famous ballerina Niura Poliakoff, as narrated by company dancer Masha Mastova. Madame, as Masha calls her, takes her ballet troupe on tour, arriving to Puerto Rico in 1917. Upon arrival they learn about the Russian Revolution, which has rendered their Russian passports obsolete and leaves them stranded on an island that is undergoing its own transition from a Spanish colony to an American territory. As her husband/manager Dandré tries to get British passports so they can leave, she falls in love with the much younger Diamantino Marquez to the dismay of Masha and the others...


Tropes present in this work include

  • Abortion Fallout Drama: For a while, as a teen Madame has two lovers: Dandré and prince Kotshubei. Eventually she gets pregnant and has an abortion that leaves her infertile. Ever since, if she sees a child on the street, she feels like hugging him.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Between Madame, a world-famous ballerina, and Diamantino Marquez.
  • Banned in China: In-Universe. Madame watches poet Manuel Aljama recite one of his poems ("Last Requiem" about the death and resurrection of one's homeland) at a school. The police take him away because under the American government, any display of Puerto Rican nationalism is forbidden.
  • Berserk Button: A reporter goes to interview Madame, but it is obvious that he did not do his research. In the end, he commits the faux pas of asking her age. She becomes furious and tells him off.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: When the company finally leaves, Madame orders Masha to stay behind, accusing her of having called the police which led to Diamantino's death. But Masha is in love with Juan and settles down with him, having two children and founding a dance school. Later on, Masha and Madame cross paths, and the latter appears to not hold grudges.
  • Broken Pedestal: The troop members feel betrayed by Madame falling in love with the much younger Diamantino.
  • Child by Rape: Bienvenido, as a result of Don Pedro Batistini raping his mother Aralia. When Don Pedro's wife, Doña Basilisa sees her daughter kissing Bienvenido, she intervenes to prevent an incestuous relationship between half siblings.
  • Chocolate Baby: After being raped by Don Pedro Batistini Aralia gives birth to a son who has the same red hair. She calls the boy Bienvenido and has her rapist become the boy's godfather.
  • Double Standard: Masha is upset with Madame given her Age-Gap Romance with Diamantino, who is almost twenty years younger. In her own words, "When an older woman falls in love with a handsome swain, it's an insult to nature."
  • Fake Russian: In-Universe. All dancers in the troupe have Russian names (Katia, Maya, Egorova, Natasha, Nadya, and Masha), but two of them are Englishwomen.
  • Historical Domain Character: The Governor of Puerto Rico at the time, the American Arthur Yager, invites Madame to dance at La Fortaleza (the Governor's residence).
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Diamantino's parents are deceased, but his godfather Don Pedro and his wife Doña Basilisa frown on him having a relationship with Madame, who is older and Russian.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Between Madame and Dandré. He becomes her sponsor in the beginning and with his help, she creates the ballet company. He is the one that reaps most of the troupe's earnings, while some of the dancers have to ask their families for money for living expenses.
  • Meaningful Name: Diamantino Márquez. When Madame meets him, he is wearing raggedy clothes but his jacket has diamond buttons. His name is derived from diamante, the Spanish word for diamonds.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Madame can be considered a fictionalized version of ballerina Anna Pavlova. Her "husband"/manager Victor Dandré shares his name with Pavlova's.
  • Propaganda Machine: At the reception at the Governor's residence, Madame is shot, getting her arm grazed. However, the press is forbidden to report ANYTHING about her being shot. It never happened.
  • Shout-Out: To dancer Isadora Duncan. Madame looks down on Duncan for the latter's improvisational dancing and her preference for dancing barefoot and half-naked. Madame views dancing en pointe as vital for spiritual transcendence.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The action is narrated by Masha, one of the dancers who is witness to the changes Madame undergoes and feels betrayed by Madame's love affair.