“Snowdrops” by AD Miller (2011) – 262 pages
“Moscow is Moscow,” Masha said. “Bad roads and many fools.”
“Snowdrops” by AD Miller is an amiable novel about Moscow and Russia in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the Putin years. Russia was still in the early stages of its transition from Communism to capitalism, and at that point at least, capitalism seemed to the Russians to be little more than a form of organized crime.
I remember in my grade school days when everyone here in the US was worried that the Soviet Union was passing the United States in the Space Race. The United States media propaganda made out the Soviet Union to be entirely drab and the people there, especially the women, to be hopelessly dumpy. Later I discovered that Russia had a colorful literary tradition that puts that of the United States to shame. And only later did we discover that the Soviet Union had more than their share of the most beautiful women in the world.
Which brings us back to “Snowdrops”. Our thirty-eight year-old lawyer hero from England gets involved with a young pretty Moscow woman, Masha, who is in her early twenties and her ‘sister’ Katya whom he meets on the Moscow Metro. Our lawyer guy is in Russia to close an oil deal taking place in Murmansk, a small city up near the Arctic Circle.
“Snowdrops” reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Graham Greene. Greene also wrote novels situated in exotic locations. Another quality I believe that Miller shares with Greene is that even though he is writing from the point of view of an outsider looking in at this foreign culture, the outsider just by being there is complicit in whatever happens in this foreign place. In this case our lawyer is more than complicit. He adores the attentions of these two young women who impress his work mates and the other Russian men when they are out in public with him.
I am always interested in reading about what is happening in Russia since the fall of Communism. It did seem the description of Moscow was a bit outdated and familiar, the same picture we got in the Putin era. The beggars and the drunks laying in the streets, the capitalist businessmen who dress and act like gangsters, the exotic erotic nightclubs. We’ve seen this picture before.
I enjoyed “Snowdrops”, this Man Booker shortlisted novel. I’m not sure whether or not this novel should win the Man Booker. It has no pretensions to greatness or profundity, but to read it is a pleasant way to spend some time in Moscow.