Now that I’ve read Shamim Sarif's Despite the Falling Snow, I’m looking more forward than ever to the film. Directed by the author, the story features Katya—played by Rebecca Ferguson in the movie—a female spy in Cold War Moscow who steals secrets for the Americans from an idealistic Russian politician—all the while falling in love with him. The nuanced writing allows the reader to see Katya’s guilt and hesitation at having to choose between betraying her own values and the man she loves along with the anxiety and second guessing that accompany her agonizing decisions. It’s an inside look not often revealed in typical novels in the spy genre.
There are several layers of plot. Katya and the younger Alexander’s story (Ferguson and Sam Reid in the film) revealed in flashbacks, and the life Alexander leads many years later. A successful food entrepreneur in Boston the older Alexander (Charles Dance) has a mature relationship to ponder and explore, with a woman named Estelle, married, about my age, a striving writer.
Charles Dance as the older Alexander. With “Estelle”?
While I fell in love with the love story between Katya and young Alexander, I related to Estelle. Her appreciation for this man that stirs up something new in her, while comfortably ensconced—she might say entombed—in a thirty year marriage is something most women married for a lifetime might feel. I’m lucky my husband appreciates and supports my writing but Estelle’s spouse is dismissive of her efforts; it’s easy to see where how this intriguing supportive man would be a temptation. There is no Estelle listed on the cast list but I don’t think the older woman has been kicked to the curb; I think she just has a new name.
The older Alexander also has a beautiful niece Lauren, a dead-ringer for Katya, also played by Rebecca Ferguson in the film.
In the novel, Lauren begins a same sex relationship. You’ll have to read the book to see with who, I’m not going to tell you everything. It’s a relationship that Sarif doesn’t dwell on, there are no salacious sex scenes, no anxiety-ridden discussions. Rather she throws it out as a subplot, a minor chord, but one that plays throughout. At one point in the novel, the father of the other young woman asks very matter of factly “So you like this girl?” the way we typically see a concerned dad saying “So you like this boy?” A good, straightforward understanding and honest portrayal of the world as it is.
For this reader, the mix of suspense and relationships made for a great read, and I’m eager to see how the author transferred the characters and their story to the screen. The film opens in the UK on April 22 and is beginning to get slated into US film festivals, including the L.A. Women’s International Film Fest here in my home town on March 24. I recommend reading the book first.
“It’s a funny thing,” he says. “Even though it has been such a long time, sometimes I can still remember how I felt in those weeks after I first met Katya. The excitement, the dizziness, the agony of meeting the person you had never believed existed. It is a wonderful thing to be truly in love.” He looks up. “That is what I remember most about my wife. How very much I adored her.”
That much is true, he thinks. All the rest; the betrayals, the nightmares, the waking horrors, the guilt; he has packed these away over the course of the years, packed it all tightly into one corner of his mind. No regrets. About anything.
pg 17, Despite the Falling Snow
Have you seen the trailer?