Snowdrops, by A.D. Miller, was published in 2011.
The first sentence is: “I smelled it before I saw it.”
The book starts off with this definition:
Snowdrop. 1. An early-flowering bulbous plant having a white, pendent flower. 2. Moscow Slang. A corpse that lies buried or hidden in the winter snows, emerging only in the thaw.
There’s a prologue, in which the narrator is telling someone else about the day the police showed him the body of a friend, uncovered in the snow. Then the narrator brings the story back to the previous September.
Nicholas Platt, the protagonist and narrator, sees two women trying to fight off a purse snatcher at a Moscow Metro station. After some hesitation, Nicholas comes to their aid and successfully scares off the purse snatcher. The women, he learns, are named Masha and Katya. They’re sisters.
The story takes place in the 1990s, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Post-communist Moscow is a character in the story.
Nicholas is a lawyer, originally from England. His specialty is contracts between Russian companies and foreign banks. He takes on a client known as the Cossack, who is starting a new project company with no credit history.
Nicholas quickly enters into a romantic relationship with Masha, and into a friendship with Katya.
Nicholas’ friend Steve warns him: “In Russia… there are no business stories. And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories.”
Nicholas helps Masha and Katya’s aunt with the paperwork needed for the sale of an apartment.
Nicholas continues to narrate the story as if he’s telling it to someone other than the reader. “Standing there, I remember, I experienced the blissful sense of well-being that expats sometimes enjoy. I was a long way from things and people that I didn’t want to think about – including myself, my old self, the so-what lawyer with the so-what life I’d left behind in London. The me that you know now.”
The prologue told me the story was going to end in a snowdrop (in the Moscow meaning of the word). Aside from that, there is an overall feeling of undefined dread to the story. Something bad is going to happen, things are going to go wrong, and Nicholas seems to be confessing that it was his fault, and that the decisions he made caused it all. At the same time, he seems to be a foreigner trapped in a culture beyond his control. It’s all vague, at least at first. The atmosphere is there, but nothing is spelled out. This novel is brilliantly written.
Eventually, of course, the answer comes. Everything is explained. The answer, I felt, was a little anticlimactic. But I enjoyed getting there.
I liked the writing more than the story. I didn’t love the novel, but I did enjoy reading it.
Why I chose this book:
I found it during an internet search. It sounded interesting, and slightly outside of my typical reading material. It was that simple.
I didn’t realize, until I read that opening definition, that a snowdrop is a flower, and not the same as a raindrop. (Botany is not my strong suit.) I decided to go with it anyway.