January 11, 1999 12:00 PM

by Diane Solway

You don’t have to know a pirouette from a pierogi to be enthralled by this biography of ballet’s first pop star. Obsessed with dance from the time he was a poor child growing up in the Soviet Union, Nureyev scrapped his way to the Kirov Ballet, then grabbed headlines with his 1961 defection in Paris.

A passionate dancer, he earned wild adulation—and learned that bad behavior (like giving an unreceptive audience an obscene gesture) only enhanced his celebrity. Solway is a crack reporter and talented storyteller, and the Russian artist’s long romance with dancer Erik Bruhn and stage partnership with Margot Fonteyn are particularly well-wrought. Nureyev wasn’t exactly a noble fellow—he routinely mistreated his friends, who worshipped him anyway—but until his death six years ago at the age of 54 from AIDS, he remained a fascinating one. (Morrow, $27.50)

Bottom Line: Vivid portrait of a soaring artist

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