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0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Maggie Shipstead Narrator: Rebecca Lowman Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.

After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms Shipstead’s range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In this exquisitely rendered story of love, loss, betrayal, secrecy, and artistic ambition, Maggie Shipstead takes hold of the reader and doesn’t let go. Astonish Me is a haunting, powerful novel.”

    Dani Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of Family History

  • “Impressively sure-footed…Shipstead’s new novel, Astonish Me, swaps the privileged world of private-school prepsters that populated her bestselling debut, Seating Arrangements, for the equally rarefied realm of professional ballet—brilliantly exposing its dark, slavish underbelly with insight and panache…Shipstead’s handling of her characters is supple and satisfying. The triumphs and mistakes they make onstage mirror the movements and missteps they make offstage.”


  • “Dazzling…Maggie Shipstead’s thrilling second book, Astonish Me, is an homage to, and exposé of, the exhilarating, punishing world of ballet; it’s also a searing rumination on insecurity, secrecy, and friendship . . . Shipstead nails the details of being perpetually en pointe: the adrenaline rush after a performance, the intimate atmosphere of the dressing room, the nagging feelings of inadequacy, the erotically charged and emotionally cruel competitiveness, and the inability to shake perfectionism long after retirement. Like a brilliant choreographer, she has masterminded a breathtaking work of art.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Dispels any idea that Shipstead is some kind of one-trick preppy…Nearly every sentence here lands with a bull’s-eye thwock of emotional truth, and the inner lives of her characters feel as real and immediate as the shifting settings they inhabit…Shipstead’s youth may be a talking point, but her talent transcends it. She’s astonishing. Grade: A-.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Gripping…Effectively dramatizes the tensions between family and career, perfectionism and compromise…Shipstead rises to the challenge of evoking the excitement of dance, and her descriptions are all the more powerful for emphasizing the hard work behind the grace.”

    New Yorker

  • “Sardonic and insightful…She does caustic humor, simmering hostilities, and social envy well…The novel’s most fascinating relationship is…between Elaine and Mr. K—a nearly two-decade push-pull of artistic need, devotion, and dependency, a partnership that, as Elaine matures, transforms from something seemingly reckless into a bond that is deep, tender, and rare.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Intensely compelling…Shipstead has captured the mercurial flow of artistic genius, the way it sanctifies some lives even as it condemns others, all of them stretching toward that perfect beauty just out of reach.”

    Washington Post

  • “This sophisticated, intelligent novel was an astonishing discovery. On one level, it tells a straightforward story of a young woman in the 1970s who fought her way into the professional ballet world… But it’s also an insistent and deft look at passion and art, a book about growing up and facing your limits and getting on with life. That it’s set in the dance world—an irresistible venue even for those of us who performed neither toe nor tap—is just the bonus to a novel that already hit the jackpot.”

    Amazon.com, editorial review

  • “Elegant and forceful…Vivid and convincing…Bold and thrilling…As in ballet, some of the drama is slyly withheld offstage, heightening the suspense, so the narrative unfolds in choreographed bursts of precision and exuberance…The way the characters come together in new and surprising pairings is one of the book’s many pleasures, and it sets the stage for a cruel, but inevitable heartbreak.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Flawless…Tightly choreographed…Shipstead gains entry into exclusive worlds and trains her opera glasses on private social rituals, as well as behind-the-scenes hanky panky…Similar to classic ballet, the power of Astonish Me arises out of the pairing of a melodramatic storyline with scrupulously executed range of movement…Shipstead sweeps you into this insider world of sweat, narcissism, and short-lived magic…Transcendent.”


  • Astonish Me has a kinesthetic energy, not unlike that of a dancer performing…An enjoyable meditation not only on ballet but on desire, ambition, and love.”

    Huffington Post

  • “Accomplished…Immersive…Shipstead’s astute, nimble writing barely misses a beat…The fragility and shifting dependency of relationships are scrupulously exposed…This is a bravura display of high-performance art, the only constant its quest for perfection.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “Quietly mesmerizing…Sharp and memorable…Like the ballet she writes about, Shipstead is an elegant writer, nimble and sophisticated…Full of the kind of keen observations about people and relationships that made her first book, Seating Arrangements, one of 2012’s most delightful literary surprises…Its truths resonate.”

    San Diego Union-Tribune

  • “Readers who reveled in Shipstead’s sardonic comedy-of-manners debut will rejoice in the emotionally nuanced tale of barre-crossed lovers and the majestic, mysterious world of professional dance. A supple, daring, and vivid portrait of desire and betrayal.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Shipstead’s prose moves fluidly through settings as varied as a ballet rehearsal and a suburban backyard, and her characterizations are full. The story proceeds with a quiet insistence that is matched by the inevitability of its denouement.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Explosive…Shipstead moves her story back and forth in time with the same seamless precision found in the details of a beautiful ballet, capturing the brutality of the training, the impossible perfection on stage, and the messy fallout that erupts when personal and professional lines blur.”

    Library Journal

  • “To perform this intricately constructed story, narrator Rebecca Lowman must seamlessly voice boy, then woman, then girl, Russian speakers, French speakers, old and young. She’s fluid and transparent in a gripping performance of a tale about performance, even subtly aging the voices of characters we meet as children and follow into adulthood. A sensational piece of acting and a flawless production. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.”


  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award
  • An NPR Bestseller
  • One of Barnes & Noble's Biggest Books of April 2014
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2014
  • An AudioFile Best Audiobook of the Year for 2014
  • A BookPage Best Book of 2014
  • A BookPage Top Pick for Reading Groups
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