Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, the LA Times Book Awards, the Galaxy National Book Awards and the CWA Gold Dagger.
About the book
Q & A with A.D. Miller
You've described Snowdrops as a "moral thriller". What do you mean by that?
You know something bad is going to happen in this book: you find that out on the very first page, though you're not sure exactly what. The question of the book is, how does it happen? In other words, how does the seemingly normal, thirty-something narrator, Nick Platt, come to be complicit in very bad deeds? It's a story of moral degradation
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Working as a foreign correspondent in Russia, I wrote an article about the role of snow in the life of Moscow. It seemed to me that the winter was an oddly unexamined aspect of Russian life—everyone knows it's cold and snowy—that deeply affects the way people live and think; and that the ways Muscovites cope with the snow tell you something about who they are. In the course of researching it, I discovered the concept of the human "snowdrop": a beautiful name for a horrible thing. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed a metaphor not only for the harshness of life in Moscow, but also for other, novelistic ideas too: for the return of the past, and for the way experiences that you try to repress can catch up with you.
How would you say your novel depicts modern Russia?
To begin with, I'd like to say that many of the best and bravest people I've ever met have been Russians: when they're good, they're often very good indeed.
But, as tends to be the case with the contexts of fiction, the view of modern Russia that the novel offers is partial—and, given the sort of book it is, more dark than light. And many of the things it describes are true and real. Moscow is a city in which people without powerful connections live on a tightrope; if they fall—if something goes wrong—they are often on their own.
Having said that, I hope that as well as the harshness of Russian life, I've also managed to convey its allure: the hospitality; the resilience; long evenings of effusive toasting; magical dachas and blissful banyas; the urgent quality of fun in Russia. And I'd point out that in the end the foreigners in Snowdrops come out at least as badly as the locals.
You lived in Moscow for three years from 2004-7. Did the events narrated in your book happen to you?
I didn't frequent clip joints or conspire in any acts of grand larceny or murder. But, on the other hand, a lot of the places and behaviour it describes are real. In particular, I've tried to capture the atmosphere among expats in Moscow in the years before the credit-crunch, a time of no-questions asked money-making and reciprocal corruption. The way Nick has drifted through his thirties—with few friends, only very loose family ties, waning ambition and a nagging sense of "is that all there is?"—is also something I've observed first-hand.
Which Russian writers do you think influenced you?
First, Gogol, particularly for the way in which, in The Overcoat, the coat is both a symbol of status and security, but also a real, physical, vital garment. Dostoevsky, especially a strange novella called The Eternal Husband. He has a filthy honesty that makes me feel like I need to take a shower after reading him, but he is inescapable. I love Isaac Babel's Red Cavalry stories for their stunningly effective understatement.
Snowdrops is your first work of fiction. Have you always wanted to be a novelist?
Yes. I've written another book, a family memoir called The Earl of Petticoat Lane, which has some novelistic elements. I think that was quite good training for Snowdrops. But I didn't feel confident enough to try the real thing until now.
Video trailer (in German)
Podcast with The Economist
- You can listen to A.D. Miller discuss the book with The Economist here.