Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 10, 2017

Despite the Falling Snow, by Shamim Sarif


I picked up this book from my shelves on a whim,  knowing nothing about it except from its blurb.

Within two chapters I knew it had been written to be made into a film.  And from the Rotten Tomatoes website, I see that the film is as dire as the book.

  • Writer-director Shamim Sarif… is aiming to create a tragic romance out of this intrigue yet misses her target thanks to her contrived plotting and trite dialogue.
  • A dreary, incompetently plotted and flatly directed Cold War melodrama …
  • … a wearily predictable tale of coincidence and tragedy…
  • (My favourite, deliciously patronising) While it struggles to find rhythm, you can’t fault Sarif’s ambitions.

Picture this.  Estelle is sitting outside a building in Boston.  It’s very cold. A stranger comes by and chats her up.  Gosh, Sasha just happens to be the owner of the catering company that her one-dimensional shark-like daughter Melissa is indoors trying to buy.  Estelle and Sasha go to his place for lunch where she enthuses about his rustic Italian cooking and he soberly tells her that the most important thing is to have fresh ingredients.  [Lisa thinks: oh, yeah, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil in Boston in Autumn.  Fresh asparagus too.  Lisa thinks: #UnknownUnknown: author is so ignorant about seasonal vegetables she has not done a simple Google search. Author does not know that even if Boston flies ‘fresh’ vegetables in from the southern hemisphere where it is Spring, tomatoes and basil will still not be fresh because they are summer produce.  In the off season they will be grown under permaculture or some such, and they will never have the flavour of the tomatoes and basil in season. Lisa also thinks, how come if this character has travelled the world with her one-dimensional professor husband who #FeministCliché frustrated her ambition to be a writer, she’s never had freshly grated Parmesan before?] Prediction: Sasha and Estelle will end up together, director/author earning Brownie points for not being ageist about falling in lurve…

Cut to the flashback in the 1950s during the Khrushchev thaw.  Katya and the young Sasha meet across a crowded room in Moscow.  He is handsome and desirable and works for the Soviet government.  She is beautiful and clever and spies for the Americans because her parents were killed in one of Stalin’s purges.  They bond over winter vegetables in his kitchen [and Lisa struggles with the idea of Russians harvesting beets and potatoes from under four feet of snow cover – which in the long Russian winter forms in November and doesn’t melt till April.]   Katya decides to seduce Sasha so that she can get information.  Her friend and fellow spy Misha and Potential Love Triangle warns her not to fall in love with Sasha.  Prediction: she will.  [To be fair, I knew that already because the blurb told me so.  #SmacksForehead, why did I fall for the blurb?  Answer: because I was seduced by the atmosphere at the Hill of Content bookshop.  They surely wouldn’t sell trashy cliché-ridden books?]

To be (reluctantly) fair, this book has lots of five-star reviews at Goodreads where readers are prepared to overlook the problem with the tomatoes because of its Tragic Storyline.  I guess they overlook the cliché-ridden depiction of Cold-War Moscow too.  Sarif, according to Wikipiedia, has won awards for the film as well.

My advice: read something else.

PS Just in case you’re wondering why I read it:  I am in the middle of reading Bram Presser’s amazingly good Book of Dirt and my copy of the film made from Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin came in the mail and I watched it last night.  At bedtime I was just not ready to go back to reading more chilling stuff about the Nazis so I set aside The Book of Dirt and chose Despite the Falling Snow as a quick-and-easy alternative …

Update 6/3/18 Ever the glutton for punishment, I have now seen the film.  (I think I ordered it from Quikflix before reading the book and forgot to cancel the order.  The film is dire, full of Cold War clichés and relentlessly anti Russian.

Author: Shamim Sarif
Title: Despite the Falling Snow
Publisher: Metro Books, 2016
ISBN: 9781786061072
Source: Personal copy, purchased at the Hill of Content Bookshop.

Available from Fishpond (if you won’t be warned): Despite the Falling Snow


  1. I assume this book did not meet your expectations. The cover is nice. Chuckling here.


    • Yup, I got sucked in by the cover too. It must have been facing outwards at the shop. Still, I did buy a lovely copy of Literary Wonderlands the same day, so my purchases weren’t all bad:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh dear, this does sound a bit of a turkey. I’m afraid I disagree about the cover picture – I think it gives ample warning of the clunky plot you outline. Still, it’s good to be open about books that don’t work for us. I tend not to write about books I don’t rate highly, but occasionally I like to grapple with one that’s so-so, in the hope that others will point out maybe what I’m missing or not getting – or else just to unravel my thoughts in the process of writing.


    • I know that some bloggers don’t review books they don’t like – and (with rare exceptions) I don’t if they’re so awful I don’t finish them – but my loyalty is to the reader who is going to fork out hard-earned money just as I do. I wish one of my litblogging friends had warned me off this one…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lol-ing at your hashtagged internal monologue! Oh the pleasures of reading a pissed-off book review.


  4. The title obviously refers to winter vegetables in Moscow. They grow despite …

    I’m not sure why you went all the way to the end bit I hope it fixed that night’s insomnia.


    • Now that you mention it, I’m not sure either…


  5. I do not associate freshly-harvested vegetables with fall in Boston. Surely they are all “safely gathered in” by then and secure in the root cellar. Acorn and hubbard squash, cranberries, potatoes, apples. Still, we were able to harvest collard greens as late as November in Connecticut. But tomatoes, never! As soon as the night grow cold they no longer ripen on the vine.

    This reminds me of the time I made a fuss about the Trollope novella set in Australia where they were growing sugar cane (wet) next to a sheep grazing area (dry).


    • LOL it sounds as if we have the same fixation with agricultural accuracy – authors, beware, Nancy and I are on your case!


  6. Glad to follow your advice and am reading something else. Thanks. :-)


  7. Haha! Sounds like you pulled a me and reviewed a book you disliked. I’m glad you did, though – your #InnermostThoughts are hilarious!

    Whim reads are always a gamble. But to be fair, that cover does raise several red flags: the drabness, the gray, the snow, good ol’ St. Basil’s Cathedral hanging out in the background…


    • Yes, JT, you are right #HangsHeadInShame I should have known…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoy your honest, biting comments and 3rd person interjections!


    • Those howlers would never have got past your editorial pen…


  9. My groaning bookshelves thank you for warning me against adding to their weight with this poor attempt at a novel.


  10. Oh dear.
    I love this review. The cover was a fair warning, though. Dégoulinant de mièvrerie.


  11. I just checked at Goodreads, there seems not to be a French edition of this so *chuckle* you need not fear temptation.
    But there’s a German translation, with a different cover. It has St Basil’s in the background, but viewed through wrought iron bridgework – you know those bridges where couples hang their padlocks to signify their undying love?


  12. I’m warned. But the cover would have been a turn off anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love your hashtags 🤣


    • Who’d have thought the day would come when I would be using them, as naturally as using punctuation!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I picked this up at a bargain bookstore and bought it cos i was learning russian and wanted some russian content. The book is soooo slowww, and the sub-plot was so distracting (I couldn’t care less about Estelle and Lauren) that i downloaded the film to know the end. Wow, what a badly made film. Everything was rushed – not much character development. I still don’t understand what Misha really did that caused him to kill Katya. KGB what? But I don’t think I can read the entire book to find out lol. Can you tell me what happened with Mischa? Was he tricked by the KGB? And is Estelle the daughter of Dimitri?


    • *chuckle*
      Alas Jean, I feel your pain but I cannot remember a thing about this book except how woeful it was!


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