x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A fictional tale with the bite of reality

The Life: The many western companies that have fallen foul of Russia's unique business culture will be fascinated by AD Miller's Snow Drops.

Cover of the book Snow Drops by AD Miller
Cover of the book Snow Drops by AD Miller

The many western companies that have fallen foul of Russia's unique business culture will be fascinated by AD Miller's Snow Drops. The novel tells you more about the pitfalls and problems of doing business there than any formal guidebook.

The cleverness of Mr Miller's book is that it simultaneously shows the pros and cons of Russian corporate life: the immense opportunities presented by a commodity-rich but consumer-naïve economy, contrasted with the horrors of rampant corruption, fraud and everyday, casual crime.

The narrator, a thirty-something lawyer, Nick, who becomes entwined in two frauds, finally confesses that, despite his experiences, he has fallen in love with Moscow and its brash decadence.

He has fallen in love, too, with Masha, a classic Russian femme fatale who lures, entraps, deceives and finally disappears, leaving Nick wounded in business and in love. The novel is in the form of a long revelation to another unidentified woman, whom Nick hopes to marry.

The "snow drops" of the title are the corpses that appear every spring as the Moscow thaw reveals the skullduggery that took place while the city was enveloped in snow. Some of the best narrative passages of the book are of the Muscovite climate, and the effects it has on the city's inhabitants.

Within this fine lyrical writing, two stories of slushy human greed unfold.

In one, western banks are duped into handing over hundreds of millions of dollars for an oil pipeline that turns out not to exist at all; in the other, an old widow is robbed of the attractive downtown apartment she owns thanks to her late husband's services to the Soviet state. Some, especially Muscovites, will complain that the book simply repeats stereotypical negatives about the country and reinforces clichés that are no longer relevant in the "new Russia" of Putin and Medvedev.

But the likes of BP and Ikea - both recent victims of the country's corporate culture - will know better.

The Quote: "In Russia, there are no business stories. And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories." Steve Walsh, a character in AD Miller’s book Snow Drops

fkane@thenational.ae

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