Snowdrops shortlisted for the Man Booker prize

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Moscow and Russia in Snowdrops

The versions of Moscow and Russia that appear in Snowdrops are both accurate and distorted. Many of the places in the novel are authentic, but some, such as the Rasputin nightclub and Absinthe restaurant, are composites.

Likewise, some aspects of recent Russian history have been slightly altered. For example, the Kremlin hasn't postponed national elections, as Nick mentions towards the end of the book, but it has interfered with them, and fiddled with the constitution to extend the presidential term.

The kinds of crime that Snowdrops describes, however, are genuine and widespread. And the term "snowdrops", and what it connotes, are real.

Journalism

A.D. Miller was Moscow correspondent of The Economist from 2004 to 2007. He wrote about the consolidation of Putinism, the rise of Gazprom, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Yukos case, instability in the north Caucasus, the Litvinenko murder and corruption, among other things, travelling from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, Murmansk to Grozny. He also covered the "orange revolution" in Ukraine, the "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan, repression in Belarus and events in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Here are two of his reports:

"A winter's tale" describes the role of snow in Moscow, focusing especially on the lives of the city's homeless and migrant workers—and explaining the concept of the human "snowdrop":

"On the wall of Andrei Pentukhov's office is a large map of Moscow. Black marks are scattered across it, clustering especially around the railway stations to the north-east of the city centre. Each black spot represents a person found dead of hypothermia in the streets...

Today, the winter snows of Moscow cover many of the city's flaws: the glum architecture, and the grime and clutter of its breakneck growth. But the winter and the snow also reveal other, hidden aspects of modern Russia: the superpower status it still retains among its neighbours; the desperation that lurks beneath the oil-fuelled glitz; the brutality, lawlessness and all-permeating corruption."

"Kama Sutra and feral cats" is a whimsical look at Russia's variety and evolution via its eccentric airports:

"Working as a journalist in Russia, with its eleven time zones, its endless steppe and perpetual taiga, means spending a lot of time in the air. It involves flying in planes so creaky that landing in one piece is a pleasant surprise—then disembarking in airports so inhospitable that some visitors may want to take off again immediately...

The bags circulate on a terrifying metal device apparently borrowed from a medieval torture chamber...The arrivals hall still has a faint abattoir feel...Last year a family of bears wandered onto the runway... Forlorn African students camp out in the upstairs corridors."

In this article in the Observer, he tries to explain the appeal of Russia to western authors, from John Le Carré to Martin Amis and Gary Shteyngart:

"Just as travel writing chronicles the traveller's preconceptions as well as his journey, so for some novelists, Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions.

Russia has for centuries been a distorting, fairground mirror for the west. It is both like and unlike the tamer nations..."

In this piece for Intelligent Life's "authors on museum" series, AD Miller returns to Odessa to write about its literary museum:

"This wonderful museum, housed in a pale-blue tsarist-era palace, isn't devoted only to Odessa's own, or to its magical and dreadful history, though it encompasses both. Because of its location—on the Black Sea, at what was the Russian and then the Soviet empire's sunny southern limit—many of those empires' greatest authors were exiled to Odessa, fled through its docks, or came here for their health or a debauch. Embracing the transients and flâneurs, this is, in effect, a museum of Russian literature. And, being Russian, it becomes a museum of censorship and repression as well as art: of genius and bravery, blood and lies."

Further reading on Russia, recommended by A.D. Miller

Fiction

Red Cavalry and other stories by Isaac Babel: Because they are subtle yet stunningly evocative of war, alienation and Jewish gangsters in pre-revolutionary Odessa. Read an appreciation of Isaac Babel by A.D. Miller (in the Guardian).

Courtyard with washing

The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Sleep and waking, night and day and right and wrong blend into each other in this neglected but haunting St Petersburg parable.

The Overcoat and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol: "We all came out of Gogol's Overcoat", Dostoevsky allegedly said, and he was right.

A.D. Miller explains why he loves "The Overcoat" in this piece in the Independent.

Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoy: It's as if, towards the end of his life, Tolstoy set himself the challenge of putting all Russia into a slender novella—and he succeeded.

The Essential Tales of Chekhov: Because some of them are even better than his plays.

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman: Essential reading for anyone who is tempted to believe in the romance of either war or Stalin.

Non-fiction

Less than One by Joseph Brodsky: Superhumanly brilliant essays on life in the Soviet Union.

Sofa

Cursed Days by Ivan Bunin: For a first-hand account of the revolution in Moscow and Odessa

Russian Conspirators in Siberia by Andrel Rosen: To discover the heroism and tragedy of the Decembrists, who might have changed Russia's history, and the world's.

And, among more recent books on Russia's past and present, The Empire's New Clothes by Bruce Clarke, Molotov's Magic Lantern by Rachel Polonsky, and The New Cold War by Edward Lucas.

For news about Russia in English, visit the Moscow Times.