Wednesday 13 April 2016

Despite The Falling Snow by Shamim Sarif ** BLOG TOUR ** ** My Life in Books **

In 1950s Moscow, model communist Katya secretly spies for the Americans in the Cold War arms race. When she lands her biggest assignment, stealing secrets from rising government star Alexander, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with him.
Reconciling her beliefs with her love for Alexander means a choice - between continuing her secretive work or continuing under threat of blackmail. But Katya's determination to live honestly with her husband comes too late - for he has unknowingly alerted the government to a leak, putting them both in danger of capture and death.
Decades later in the United States, Alexander has built a successful business empire. A kind, passionate man, he has managed to bury the tragic memories of his early life in Soviet Russia with his charismatic late wife, Katya.
But into his life come two women. One begins to open up the heart he has kept protected for so long. The other, his niece Lauren, is determined to uncover the truth about what really happened to Katya all those years ago.
The story's journey back to 1950s Moscow takes us into a world of true love lost, and of friendships betrayed. For only by confronting the past can Alexander move on to his future. 

Despite The Falling Snow by Shamim Sarif was originally published in 2010. This film tie-in paperback edition was published by John Blake Publishing on 7 April 2016.

Looking back through my reading records, I find that it is almost ten years since I read The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif. I can hardly believe so much time has passed, I've read hundreds and hundreds of books since then yet I still remember how much I enjoyed her beautiful writing.

Despite The Falling Snow is a story of love and betrayal, told in two different eras. The story opens in Boston, USA in November 1998 and the reader is introduced to two of the main characters in the story; Estelle and Alexander. They meet on a bench outside Alexander's business head office, he's just about to close the deal to sell his successful empire. Estelle is the mother of Melissa; the woman who wants to buy it.

The reader is transported back many years to post-Stalin Russia. Alexander is a young man, working for the government, when he meets Katya at a party thrown by mutual friends, his world is turned upside down. Katya appears to be a good, solid communist girl. Working as a school administrator, she has sworn allegiance to the government, despite being orphaned as a teenager when her parents were murdered under Stalin's regime. But all is not as it seems, and Katya is in fact a spy, and her latest mission is to snare Alexander, to steal secrets and to pass them to the Americans.

The modern day setting and characters weave seamlessly with the story of Katya and Alexander's doomed relationship. Estelle and her daughter Melissa open up old wounds for Alexander, yet also seem to cleanse him. As the truth is discovered and secrets unfold, Alexander is able to move on, despite his pain.

Despite The Falling Snow is beautifully written, with characters that are created with care and precision. Characters that the reader will take to heart and will really believe in. Shamim Sarif takes the cold Russian environment and turns it into a sparkling story. Her ability to create such wonderful settings is excellent, her poetic and vivid descriptions are such a pleasure to read.

A stunning and beautiful story, I enjoyed this so much. With themes of love and heartbreak, of despair and discovery, Despite The Falling Snow is a story that transports the reader to icy Russia amongst incredible characters during a fascinating period in history.

I am so pleased to welcome Shamim Sarif here to Random Things today to share her list of books that have been inspirational to her.

My Life in Books ~ Shamim Sarif

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott  When I was a girl, this novel satisfied many key needs for me, requirements I probably could not have articulated at the time. It featured a feisty central heroine in Jo March, who was also an aspiring writer. As if that wasn't enough, it also satisfied my desire for the world to be fair and just; for people to learn lessons from their mistakes and to become better because of them; for honesty and compassion to win. These are not bad life lessons for any child and Little Women doesn't shy away from weaving them into the narrative through a family of colourful characters.

The Fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson  This handsome blue hardback was a present from a family friend when I was perhaps eight years old. I remember being enthralled with such a gift and spending hours engrossed in the hundreds of paper thin pages. It was the start of a real love affair with physical books, expressed in later years by incessant hanging around in secondhand book shops. But the stories themselves terrified me. I remember being particularly traumatised by 'The Little Match Girl' and to this day, I have never read it again.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand  For me, the writing is not exceptional but the message of this book hit me at the right time, in my early twenties, and it touched something within me that I felt was already there but that I would never have been able to express. The idea that you could (and should) pursue your passions without fear of what the rest of the world will say was very rousing to the introverted writer in me.

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (Isak Dineson)  I spent time in Kenya when I was younger, and visited Blixen's home in the area of Nairobi named 'Karen' after her. The book is filled with simple prose that is never simplistic and is evocative of a very specific place and time - and her love of that part of Africa and the people she meets comes across in a completely unsentimental way.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez  Just delicious. A beautiful story about love, the thing we all live for, and also witty, compassionate and long, elegantly constructed sentences. It aroused in me the understanding that prose can be poetic in its rhythm and language.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy  Not a book I ever expected to take to, but fell in loe from the first sentence. In many ways the opposite of Marquez - short, pithy sentences. I learned a lot about dialogue from this book - with guidance as to who is talking, you pick it up from one or two words that somehow get imbued with the character who is speaking them. An elegy for a lost world of cowboys and honour and all of those old fashioned but heroic elements I love in a story.

Shamim Sarif ~ April 2016 

Shamim Sarif is an award winning novelist, screenwriter and film director. Her first novel The World Unseen won both the Pendleton May First Novel Award and Betty Trask Award.
Shamim adapted the book for film herself, both writing the screenplay and directing the film, alongside her partner Hanan who produced the film which went on to win 23 awards internationally.
Her second novel I Can't Think Straight was also made into a film by Shamin winning 11 awards.

In 2016 Altitude Films will release Despite The Falling Snow as a major motion picture starring Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible) with the title song by Ella Henderson and score by Oscar winning composer Rachel Portman (Emma, Chocolat).

Shamim has spoken at TED events in London, Jerusalem and India. In 2008, Shamim recevied the AfterEllen Visibility Award as International Lesbian/Bi Woman of the Year. Shamim and her partner Hanan are founders of the Sarif-Kattan Foundation, focusing on empowering and educating women and children across the globe.
Hanan works alongside Shamim producing all of the films that Shamim directs.
Shamim and Hanan live in London with their two teenage sons.

Follow Shamim Sarif on Twitter @samimsarif

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