A dancer's tale of imperial Russia

"Little K" was Mathilde Kschessinska, prima ballerina assoluta of the Russian Imperial Ballet during the final decades of the monarchy, mistress of noblemen and even the tsar.

The novel — despite being populated with real people and plotted with real events, this is a novel — opens with 100-year-old Mathilde recounting her life's story, beginning with her days as a flirtatious ballet student, and moving through her torrid affairs and lifelong passion for Tsar Nicholas II, her illegitimate son (is he another heir to Russia's throne?), and her flight from Russia after the revolution.

And, of course, we see everything skewed through Mathilde's point of view. She's spoiled and petulant, ambitious and conniving, and deceitful — Sharp does an excellent job of making Mathilde the "unreliable narrator." But she also makes us care about what happens to Mathilde even though the character is usually not at all likable.

Plus, the story is rich with historical detail, describing the decadent excesses of the Russian nobility, the intrigue of the theater, and the paralysis of Russia's rulers in their waning days of power. Sharp sweeps us into another place and time, blending fact and fiction into an engrossing tale of love, loss and history.

"The True Memoirs of Little K" by Adrienne Sharp (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 373 pages, $25)

'Three Cups of Tea' author in Wichita

Greg Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea," will appear in Wichita on Wednesday on his tour for his new book, " Stones Into Schools" (Penguin, 448 pages, $16 paper) , which discusses how his Central Asia Institute navigates harsh terrain and even harsher politics to build schools in war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The reading and book-signing is at 7 p.m. at WSU's Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 29th North and Oliver. Tickets are required; call Watermark Books at 316-682-1181 for ticket information.