The enthralling narrative of Shamim Sarif’s powerful second novel moves between present day Boston and 1950s Moscow.
After an early career amongst the political elite of Cold War Russia, Alexander Ivanov has built a successful business in the States.
For forty years, he has buried the tragic memories surrounding his charismatic late wife, Katya — or so he believes. For into his life come two women — one who will open up the heart he has protected for so long; another who is determined to uncover what really happened to Katya so long ago. The novel’s journey back to the snowbound streets of post-Stalinist Moscow reveals a world of secrets and treachery.
Shamim Sarif’s elegant writing delicately evokes the intensity of passionate love and tragic violence.
They walk back to her apartment, holding hands, not speaking. The late-night air is cool, even here, where the narrow streets are bound by high, grey buildings, and he is happy. Even his fatigue is pleasurable when it is relieved by her company. When they reach her apartment, he walks behind her up the stairs. The concrete walls and tiny stairwells are oppressive, and he is relieved to get away from them, even into her small, dark living space. Maya, as usual, is still out. Maya’s mother is asleep in her tiny cupboard of a room, the door tightly shut. They go into the bedroom and Alexander sits on the foot of her bed, draws her to him, and kisses her. “Happy anniversary,” he says.
It is not a particularly significant day, but while they have been strolling home, he has been calculating in his mind, and has come to the conclusion that today they have been together for five months exactly. Katya looks up with a jerk, almost as though he has reached over and slapped her. She stares at him coolly.
“What is it?” he asks, feeling a mild panic grip him.
“What are you talking about?” she replies. Her tone is harsh.
“I was just thinking… I was just thinking that we have been together exactly five months. Today. An anniversary.”
“Oh.” She stands up abruptly, upset still, and embarrassed. As she knew would happen, he is on his feet in a moment, and has moved to hold her, but it is hard for him to do so for she has the palms of her hands pressed over her eyes. He holds her from behind, cradling her in his arms, and kissing her neck.
“What is it, Katyushka? What is it, my love?” he asks, and despite herself, she feels the tears begin to fall. He holds her more tightly.
“Is it so bad to be with me?”
She laughs, slightly, as she weeps, and shakes her head. He kisses her hair. He can smell the metallic, inky smell of the school in it.
“Tell me. What are you thinking about?” He pauses. “What anniversary?”
Almost at once, the sobbing stops, and her body has stiffened beneath his hands.
“Come here,” he says, and he takes her hand and pulls her down onto the thin mattress, and lies next to her, precariously close to the edge of the narrow bed, shifting closer so that her head is against his shoulder, and his arms are around her. She has stopped crying, and he waits, rubbing the top of her back gently, as if soothing a child, and he listens to the breath entering and leaving her, rhythmic and slowing.
“Tell me,” he says, and for the first time, she does.
“Fourteen years ago today,” she says, as though beginning a bedtime story, “I was sitting at the table in my parents’ house. Having dinner…”
This excerpt is the first step on the Despite the Falling Snow blog tour. Here’s the tour’s schedule…