I received this new film tie in edition of Shamim Sarif’s novel from the publisher.
Hopefully you saw my post yesterday – part of a blog tour for Shamim Sarif – where I was invited to put my questions to the author of this novel. Where Shamim Sarif differs from other writers is that she also adapts her novels for film, and directs the films of her books. The film Despite the Falling snow is due for release in the UK on April 15th.
Despite the Falling snow is the story of lost love, communism and betrayal in Moscow of the 1950’s and the possibility of moving forward forty years later. The story moves back and forth between two time periods, Moscow in the 1950’s and Boston in 1998.
In Boston, Alexander Ivanov a Russian émigré who came to the US forty years earlier is preparing a deal to sell his very successful catering company. His company has very philanthropic principles at its heart – and it is these principles that are proving to be the sticking point to business woman Melissa Johnson. As Alexander takes a break from the boardroom – he meets Estelle Johnson – Melissa’s mother – outside, waiting for her daughter to join her for lunch. When Melissa decides to carry on with her meeting – Estelle agrees to have lunch with Alexander instead – a lunch her prepares her himself. This begins a tentative friendship between Alexander – mourning still, his beautiful wife Katya forty years after her tragic death, and Estelle married to an English literature professor who sneers at her tentative attempts to write. As the two begin to talk, Estelle starts to become interested in the story of Alexander, his life in Russia, his wife Katya and the life they lived together which ended so tragically.
“A light haze of smoke drifts up high, drawn towards the gleaming makeshift lights strung up in the corners, and he watches Misha, standing across from him, talking, intent on his own words, then listening to those nearby. There is a buzz of excitement in this room, for the first news of Khrushchev’s secret speech has been leaking out into Moscow, creeping through the cracks in office windows, gusting into apartments where neighbours have been passing overheard comments up through thin-walled buildings.”
It was the sections set in cold war Russia that I liked the best – and was the reason I had agreed to receive this review copy. It is a period of European history I find very interesting – I really should get around to reading some Russian modern classics. My knowledge of this period of Russian history was basic – what I hadn’t realised was that Khrushchev had worked so closely alongside Stalin.
Shamim Sarif tells us of a Russia where Stalin exists in recent memory – Alexander and Katya were children under his regime – now in their early to mid-twenties they are a part of Khrushchev’s new USSR. Katya’s parents had been murdered by Stalin’s great terror – as a thirteen year old she denounced her parents and pledged herself to the communist government. It was all a lie, Katya’s hatred of the regime under which she lives drives everything she does.
As a young man Alexander (Sasha) is working for the government part of Khrushchev’s civil service. At a party with his best friend Misha he meets Katya – Alexander is almost immediately smitten.
Katya however is spying for the American’s – her older brother is already out – living a good life in the west. Katya begins seeing Alexander – her object to pass secrets on through her handler. What she doesn’t expect is that her feelings for Alexander quickly become genuine. Alexander and Katya marry and have a couple of happy years while Katya takes a break from her espionage activities. Soon Katya realises she will not be allowed to live an honest life with her husband. Alexander is alerted to truth – and realising that both Katya and he are in terrible danger decides to defect.
“A second to imagine Sasha. In the back of her mind, she realises that today was one of the few days when she did not say to herself, ‘Katya, you might die today. You might be killed today.’ She has always been fully aware of death, and more so in recent times because of the nature of her work. Usually this thought comes to her before too much of the day had passed, and she always makes sure to focus on it, sometimes imagining possible deaths, and sometimes thinking of her misery at leaving Sasha.”
In Boston, Alexander and Estelle’s friendship brings conflict to Estelle’s marriage – but it also makes her consider her future anew. Alexander’s niece Lauren – comes to stay, the daughter of Katya’s brother she bears an uncanny resemblance to the aunt who died years before she was born. With Estelle becoming more and more drawn to Alexander’s story, her daughter Melissa and Lauren are thrown together – and are both equally inspired by the story which has always fascinated Lauren. Obviously attracted to one another, Lauren persuades Melissa to accompany her to Moscow – to finally find out the truth about what happened to Katya – and help her beloved uncle to leave the past behind – and to finally move on with his life.
Despite the Falling Snow – tells an enormously compelling story – and I flew through the book in less than two days. The writing is clear, written in an easy straightforward kind of prose. I will definitely look out for the film; I can see the story translating perfectly to the big screen.