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Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Club: Frozen Teardrop

Frozen Teardrop: The Tragedy and Triumph of Figure Skating's "Queen of Spin"
By Lucinda Ruh

Description: "Frozen Teardrop" is the autobiographical account of one of the most beloved and controversial personalities in the history of figure skating. In this straight-forward memoir, Lucinda Ruh takes her readers through the harsh and painful realities of the figure-skating world while exposing the never-before-released details of her own private pain and suffering which would ultimately turn this Guinness-listed international icon into a bed-ridden, suicidal, starved, agoraphobic and terrified young woman. "Frozen Teardrop" is a true-life tale of beauty, refinement, genius, and skill contrasted against the cut-throat starkness of world figure-skating competition in its bleakest, most tortuous, most mind-warping moments--as seen through the eyes of a developing young prodigy whose personal life would harbor its own menagerie of horrors, secrets, and personal violations.

My thoughts: Ruh's claim to fame is her exceptional spinning ability. Although she no longer skates, her career was indeed a memorable one, and she has worked to impart her knowledge and skills to others, as a specialized coach. Her journey to the highest levels of skating was unusual and eventful, to say the least. The book chronicles, in her own words, some of the challenges she faced and the experiences she underwent.

Frozen Teardrop was very well received by skating fans and readers. As of this writing, it holds a five-star average rating on and received positive reviews from several skating reporters and bloggers. I'm afraid I cannot share their enthusiasm.

I had high hopes for Frozen Teardrop, and looked forward to Ruh's perspective on her life in and after skating. It is clear that the events she relates have affected her deeply, and that sharing them was very important to her. So far, so good; the problem is not in the concept, but in the execution. Frozen Teardrop is written in a very over the top style, with inaccuracies and exaggerations to a degree that made me doubt whether Ruh was a reliable narrator.

I'll just think of her skating instead

Ruh's experiences as an up and coming skater really were unusual. Being in Japan at the beginning of the rise of Japanese skating, for instance, including when her own coach's daughter won Worlds! Training in China would have been hard for a Western skater; it was hard for the Chinese athletes, too, and she could have done more to relate what this was like rather than focusing mainly on how everything was dirty. Moving between cultures, being part of the golden age of skating, being one of the last skaters to work with the famed Toller Cranston, having a wacky skating mother and being the younger sister of another skater. So much good material to mine! But there is too little self-reflection and insight, and everything is magnified to extremes - the Swiss fed not liking her is a "tragedy", she's always the star of every show, etc etc. I found it difficult to parse out the truth amidst the hyperbole.

Ruh also seems to have a hard time keeping track of her own claims. For instance, at the end of the section about her time in China, she explains how she doesn't believe in photographs because memories are what matters. Soon after, she is in Switzerland looking through albums full of photo memories. She doesn't want to do shows because spinning is her art and salvation, not to be exploited for commercial gain. Later on, shows are the best because she gets to spin and be loved. There also appear to be inaccuracies throughout - for instance, regarding the international assignments for the Swiss skaters of her era and their placements at major events. Even basic Wikipedia fact-checking would have been helpful in some parts.

Finally, I must remark upon my confusion at having nobody referred to by name. It is not hard to figure out that Ruh's Japanese coach is Nobuo Sato, her Canadian choreographer is Toller Cranston, her Russian coach is Galina Zmievskaya, the young gold medalist on tour with her is Tara Lipinski and the pair she admires are Gordeeva/Grinkov. This is an autobiographical account, but surely there is room in it for a few other people?

A nice interview from 2010.

In the end, I found myself wondering what Frozen Teardrop would have been like had it been told from the perspective of Ruh's various coaches. Would it be the story of an entitled girl who believes that she is the center of the universe and doing everyone a favor, while her skating mom goes around screaming at coaches and shaking them, both of them so certain that Lucinda is extra extra special? Is it her story, of a uniquely gifted young girl pushed to succeed and at times abused, with little support from anyone? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

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